Growing up, I didn’t like to read. I had problems learning words, reciting words, couldn’t spell them or add a five number column without making mistakes. Can you believe it? I didn’t know I was dyslectic until five years ago when I started writing my novels. With words and words and more words it finally dawned on me I was reversing letters five to eight times per page. Sometimes I would reverse even words the words themselves. And proof reading? Forget it. I couldn’t recognize the errors unless the format changed, which is how I manage to correct most, but not all, of my typos.
But dyslexia was just part of my reading resistance. Fiction bored me, especially the classics…along with text books…which left comics and I didn’t like those either. I just wasn’t interested in mastering literature or The Adventures of Dick and Jane. Dr. Seuss was okay, but not one of his books used more than two hundred words so I have no idea how I learned to read at all or pass an English lit test.
Well, yes I do. Fear of failure forced me to compensate for my lack of motivation. I stumbled through the required reading in high school, answered the quiz questions and immediately forgot it all. That was a choice.
You see, I can’t shake the belief that I have X number of brain cells for memory storage and so I delete info to make room for shit worth remembering.
So yeah, in college I was required to read even more books I thought were irrelevant and I dumped those memories too. That was the plan. I graduated USC with maybe 75% of brain storage capacity still left. Yea! Now I’d remember lots of movies! Maybe…
But something funny happened on the way to the theater.
With the college reading assignments finally lifted, I started embracing information that I actually wanted to know. It wasn’t fiction though, unless it was mystical stuff like the Carlos Castaneda series about a Yaqui shaman. The stories were supposed to be real. I didn’t believe they were but I soooooo much wanted them to be, and so I drank in all those magical words. Anyway, anything and everything about the mysteries of life was on my TBR list and I couldn’t stop opening books about those topics. I wanted to know life’s secrets and I wanted that info ASAP. This is how I came to be a reader.
Having graduated with a film degree, I decided to write screenplays about all the amazing things I had learned in books. It then occurred to me, I really didn’t know how to write anything. Okay, letters to friends, but story structure? What was that?
Humm… Guess I better bone up on that stuff, I thought, which required more reading. But unlike my boring literature classes, I now had a reason for wanting to know why and how narratives pull us in. So I read some how-to-write books and I learned about acts and character arcs. Since screenplays have little description, I didn’t need to know how to gracefully detail it, but I got by. I figured dialogue was easy – just make people say what they’re thinking, like explanations in science books, but half as eloquent.
And that’s how I started writing drama, by writing it badly. And although those first scripts were not atrocious, they didn’t sell. Nor did the following five scripts, and they were pretty good, so my agents told me. Later, one screenplay got optioned and another moved into the packaging phase. But still, no production formed out of either one.
Getting any script produced is truly a Hollywood miracle. Unless you have connections to a top executive who can say, “I’ll green light it,” (maybe ten lords have that power) you will have to be approved by many levels of gatekeepers who are afraid to recommend a script their boss might hate.
If you happen to be one of those gatekeeper story analysts and you fight for a script, and it bombs in release, no way will your boss take the heat for that. You and the director will. However, if the movie is a hit, your boss gets a promotion and so do you. But expect your manager to take all the credit while you covertly try to get it back.
Okay – pop quiz: At every rung of the studio ladder, what is your primary job? Answer: To stay employed! And to do that, you’ll need to dodge the flops and get associated with the wins. If people think you’re responsible for a big hit or two you’ll eventually move up the ranks to a production head, where there’s no place to hide when your choices fail. Three money-losers and you’re out. You will then move off the lot with a “development deal” tied to the studio that just fired you. If you still have access to funding, your calls and emails will be returned…until your next box office disaster when your needed call-backs abruptly come to an end.
Now I don’t want to paint solely negative pictures or come off like a whining, wanna-be-famous novelist (which I am, but without the whining part). So I’ll assure you, there ARE win-lose-win scenarios. Here’s an example.
You write a brilliant script or novel, you somehow get it to a B-list producer who recognizes your talent and the value of your non-genre story. Nine more producers attach to your project with hopes of cobbling together enough cash to get your movie made and snatch a distribution deal at a film festival. The movie gets critical acclaim but only limited exposure because Harvey Weinstein already allocated his project pick-up allowance before he saw your picture. So your labor of love opens in four cities with limited advertising. All eight people who saw your film loved it, but it was only eight sets of eyes. You’re hoping for an Academy nomination which could kick-start your film again. You don’t win it but you and your producer (the only one left who still believes in you) start over with another one of your scripts. It’s a little easier this time, your second movie gets made with slightly more fanfare and this notoriety leads to your third project, which strikes gold at the box office.
Conclusion: You didn’t give up and eventually your third script hit the big time. This scenario applies to novelists as well. Some get lucky right out of the gate. Most make it through sheer persistence, this writer included.
The reason why so many authors and filmmakers continue to beat on closed doors is because getting them to open is surely possible. Big scores happen all the time, despite dyslexia. And beyond that, there are private successes along the way that make the journey worth the struggle, especially if you enjoy the writing.
But this you know. I’m your friendly reminder-guy.
Patience, persistence and perfecting your craft really does pay off. Things change all the time, like…guess what? I’m reading more fiction now.
How about you? How are you changing? What new opportunities are you creating by staying in the game, word after word after word?
Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.