When in doubt always ask. Why?
It should be asked often. It should be taken seriously and with a grain of salt depending on its answer. It is often powerful, yet sometimes appears weak. It is however, always important.
It's what I've asked myself lots of times in regard to my writing.
I began writing (seriously) at some point early in high-school. I recently finished acting in a school play, Neil Simon's Rumor's. It was then in my freshman year that I decided I wanted to do something different. I'd keep acting through the rest of my schooling years, college, and for a brief stint off-off Broadway, also with a satirical play, but one I couldn't remember if I tried. I think I was paid something around $897.00 for five performances. I remember that, because at 22 years of age, that is what mattered at the time. I've done a few commercials and a rough attempt at breaking into film and TV as an actor, but my terrible profile and incessant need to over analyze everything in my Meisner ingrained brain--never got me very far. But, I digress.
In my fitting freshman year I somehow decided I wanted to write a play. It ran two acts. It was about two brothers in the fictitious town of Dekame, GA. I named it after a fictional town probably hearing the word Decatur and altering it slightly to suit my purposes. The two brothers had a single mother, but she was always in the background. Always conceptual, but never appearing in the scenes. Why that matters, I don't know. I had a reason I'm sure.
Act 1 is the two brothers as kids. Act 2 as adults. I go back and re-read the play at times wondering how a 15 year old had the knowledge to understand the human experience, to balance the intricate details of subtle thematic story just under a layer of realistic dialogue. I guess I'll never know how i did it. I don't remember who that 15 year old is much anymore. Don't get me wrong, the writing isn't amazing, but it's still good. I'm jealous of that writer. He was free of pleasing an audience. He wrote what he wanted. He wrote about something simple. Pleasing.
I tend not to dwell on some of my past work as hard as I should. I wrote a screenplay loosely based on a night lost in the Bronx when I was 18. It started as a short story, a writing class exercise to capture travel and community style prose. I was only supposed to write a few pages, but I continually added until the total page count was well into the 50's. The screenplay wasn't written until I was 21, but I managed to wrangle together a few willing actors and shoot the 113 minute Indy film all the same. It was my first deep dive into film-making, my last time I vowed to do it all solo, or so I thought at the time. I should listen better to my past, we all should.
I remember why I never wrote a novel in my twenties. My college roommate, who I highly respected, told me not to. He said it was a silly idea, I wouldn't know how to do it, no one would buy it; a lot of reasons why I shouldn't do it, but not one reason as to why i should.
He advised to start small and work my way up to writing more. I shared a fantasy fiction idea with him that he equally shot down as stupid. It was epic and lavish and he was brutal and cruel. I respected him, because he was the closest thing I had to an authority on what it meant to write. He'd gotten a play published in a book about plays. The play performed somewhere on a stage in front of people. He was better than me in my mind. He controlled my writing fate. Never listen to negative people. Lesson 1.
I have still yet to write that particular fantasy story, but the first chapter I did write. It was my first fictional dive into third limited storytelling. I didn't even know what third limited meant at the time. The best way I can describe it is, focusing on a point of view of a character from slightly outside their perspective. Imagine a camera following you around from over your shoulder. That's how I write that style. Imagining a camera, because that's what I know.
That fantasy concept led me to role-playing games like D&D. I played a lot of other games most people wouldn't know, but the storytelling interaction of players got me thinking about how to better write stories. I would see how people would react to improvised scenes. On the fly moments that capture the groups attention, or distracted them enough to keep them laughing and engaged.
People that run role-playing game groups are called Dungeon Masters, or Storytellers depending on who you ask; they are all really good at improvising and story telling. Well most of them are good. It's a skill set to keep a group of like minded players engaged on a story for a period of an hour up to half a day in some cases. You have to write a plot, weave characters, engage in combat, know the rules of the game front to back and when you don't make them up. All these elements to balance entertainment and worth of time in the form of a reward system. I figured here was the place I started writing for real. Figure out where you came from and why it makes you good at what you do. Lesson 2.
I quit the film industry after a film, I will not name, pushed me beyond my temperament around my early thirties. It's a cultural landmine of an industry and I just wasn't in the write position or doing anything I really loved. I started making my own film almost entirely by myself, I'd ended my career in film at the bottom of the grunt food chain taking jobs because I thought that's how you got noticed to get better jobs. Turns out there's a lot more politics in film than I'd realized when I first got involved. It's not all magic and story telling. It's a lot of do what this person says and be quite about what this person did so you can use it down the road to get yourself in a position to tell other people what to do. And so forth, and so on. I learned what good culture meant in film. Find a good culture to work in. Lesson 3. After twelve years in film I was ready for a change and It was then I decided to focus full time on a role-playing game book that I'd started writing almost five years prior. It was just a game, but now it would be my full time job.
I had no other focus, but to make this thing great. I set out and several years later I had it done. A beast of a book at 352 pages, Kromore is a killer of a setting encompassing 10,000 years of planet history and giving players the opportunity to experience a vast majority of that time in their games. I built my own game mechanics and system tested over countless years with hundreds of hours of game play sessions and nearly around the same in play testers. It's hard work doing something you love. Lesson 4.
I am pretty proud of it, despite it's egregious spelling and grammar issues. I hadn't yet learned the importance of professional editors at this time in my life, but alas it is what it is. For the most part not too shabby for my first foray into the niche world of role-playing games. A world very few survive venturing into. I'm still not done in the genre and have plenty of upcoming RPG products in the can for the future. After you do something for the first time almost entirely by yourself you realize the importance of a team. Finding the right people to surround yourself makes for a great end product. Lesson 5.
All while creating a massive universe for my game world, I was also writing a story about a boy from Earth, who through happenstance, finds his way into the universe of Kromore. His name is Avery Bishop.
I didn't realize at the time how attached I'd become to the character, but he was just real, authentic, believable, and most important, he's part of the writer version of me. I was finding my way back to my early days of writing plays about brothers in their bedroom dreaming about the future. I was back to talking about life and it's bigger meaning, albeit this time in the form of a YA/Cross over adventure story. Around now I realized this is what I should be doing. Writing these kind of stories in my elaborate universes.
I had people reading the Avery Bishop Chronicles, first drafts, and saying "it's doesn't read like you wrote it," or "It's written very well, but it's different than anything i'm used to." Both peculiar feedback in their own right, but it was different and I liked that. I took the feedback as best I could, iterated, and came back 15 or so times with new versions. The final draft is roughly the 18th iteration of the novel. Short of a publisher telling me otherwise, It's finally done. Learn when you are finished. Lesson 6.
I was tapping into something that was an even deeper part of me as a writer than I knew. There's honesty in the character of Avery, but also this wild and eccentric universe for him to live in. I was learning to mix my skill set. Learning how to have fun and enjoy the ride.
I still have so much to learn from my own writing. All the moments when I'm second guessing myself, second guessing my audience's reaction to what I'm putting on the page, and worse still, second guessing my characters. Like most writers', I'm my worst critic, but the time between criticism has gotten shorter and the words seem to come easier the more I write.
When that moment of doubt creeps in I pause. I pull out the pad and pen and write the word why, then underline it incessantly. It reveals the truth and then i'm back again. I have to keep up on myself now so that I don't forget why I'm writing the way I'm writing. I don't need to take any more time figuring it out. I have too many stories to tell and not enough time to write them.
It's my new normal, writing. I can't do it without all of you readers. I hope I continue to bring you adventures, entertainment, and thought provoking pieces you deserve. The journey still feels like its just beginning. I've still got so much to learn. I'll never stop learning. Lesson 7.
Thanks for reading.