My Protagonist's Internal Conflict: What to Write?
As young post-grad writers, we often find one another invited to the same pity party. It’s an ongoing gathering, one that Facebook pesters you about seven gazillion times a day. Officially, the event is called: What On Earth Are You Gonna Write About/Fulfill Your Lifelong Dream With/While Holding Some Shred of Dignity With Your Laptop and Cappuccino, held at Location TBD from 6:30 pm through eternity. And everyone in the written world is invited. There is also a 40 percent chance of rain.
I know I mentally receive these notifications on a daily basis. And with each red flag, I lose myself to an assortment of reactions.
My responses dance along the lines of:
When will I ever have the time to write?
What will it be about?
Is a lost-twenty-something still interesting?
How insincere will I sound if I fake it?
Will it take me anywhere, ever?
And more than that, I often wonder what I should be doing as a young writer. Do I go out and experience things? What kind of things? What will draw up inspiration? Will the thing that eventually boggles my mind be enough to intrigue a reader?
In effort to find some resolution, I downloaded the Scriptnotes Podcast, hosted by the delightful John August and Craig Mazin. I find it unbelievably comforting, as if each hour long session is a chance to sit and talk about films, writing, and the struggles of breaking into the industry with a couple of friends over coffees and croissants.
The first day I listened I picked Episode 272: The Secret Live Show in Austin. Sandwiched on the train between two middle-aged men and blanketed by silent 6 am air, I had a much needed revelation. In this podcast, Mazin hosts a panel of screenwriters at the 2016 Austin Film Festival. Following an extended happy hour, the writers spoke with the utmost honesty and laughter. When approaching the topic on how nobodies break into the screenwriting business, I felt as though my world had brightened a bit, or at the very least I could finally commit to a tattoo idea.
Tess Morris, a screenwriter on the panel (and we have the same first name, shout-out universe), referenced a pocket of wisdom as shared by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In this context, she referenced how Hoffman once said, “that writers need to fill up.”
And with just that, it lit some sort of fire.
She goes on to say, in her fabulous English accent, how she has “always thought about that because I think often we can kind of run on empty and we don’t go and live our lives and we can start to think I don’t know what the fuck I’m writing about or what I’m doing. And I think sometimes the best thing you can do is actually step away and go and fill up a little and live your life and then come back and do some work.”
Now if that doesn’t make you want to fucking stand up and live your life I don’t know what will.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was, and still is, my all-time favorite actor. As a friend of mine once put it, he was magnetizing. His versatility was astounding and he committed himself wholeheartedly to his characters by any means. I cried watching him in The Master and I laughed deeply as he played basketball in Along Came Polly. He’s been there from the beginning in Boogie Nights and even a storm chaser in Twister. The day we lost him I remember calling my parents, feeling broken and lost. He was a natural and I wished to have worked with him one day, and I’m certain I’m not alone in that.
And to hear him, this artist I hold above all others, say that it is our job as writers to fill up, to find things, to live our lives and return to our notebooks with something to say, well, it made me sit up a little taller. It’s opened my eyes. Perhaps it’s okay to have no idea what the hell I’m doing on a daily basis, and that with every decision a different universe is a new potential. That right now it’s my job to fill up on life, and return to my laptop with something to say. That we just graduated college and it’s okay we don’t know what we’re doing: fill up and figure it out.
Maybe this it’s how it’s supposed to be.
Maybe I’m just filling up till I have words bursting out of my skin.
And then I’ll RSVP, once I’m full.