On this writing front, They may be on to something. But it’s probably more like “hours and hours” than twenty minutes. This, like most things, is easier said than done. (In fact, with rare exceptions such as blinking or unconscious respiration or the act of doing nothing, little is easier to do than to say.) It’s remarkably difficult to master the Ass in Chair, Hands Clutching Pen and/or Poised over Keys, Mind Engaged matrix for a protracted period of time. Believe me, I know. This is especially true when you are young. Thus the several long pieces of prose half-finished, the screenplays near but never reaching that third act, and all the scraps of paper sporting a few scribbled verses that littered my high school years and followed on into college. I fear that for many would-have-been writers by the time they are mature and seasoned enough to maintain the clarity of focus required to write anything worth reading, they have lost the naivety and the willingness to risk extreme embarrassment that are prerequisites for writing anything you actually give a damn about.
Somehow, for no good reason, I did not write extensively for several of the years so often the most important and formative for any sort of artistic career: the late teens and early twenties. (Perhaps that is for the better, looking back – you see a twenty year old whip out his moleskin notebook and prepare to rattle off a few stanzas? Oh Jesus, man. Fake a hernia. Pull the fire alarm. Run.) I should clarify, though: I did not write much creatively of my own volition during most of my college years. Toward the end of high school and through college, however, I did take several courses that involved creative writing (short story electives, screenwriting classes, etc.) and frankly I opted for them because I thought they would be easy. And in a relative sense they were, because I allowed them to be. Writing comes easily to me, alright? It is not a challenge for me to write a cogent, grammatically palatable paragraph or ten. But given something of a natural knack for writing, it is painfully easy for me to fall into a sort of somnambulistic shuffle and dribble words out in a manner both acceptable yet totally uninspired. You will know when I am doing this, and please give me a wake up slap when you find me thus engaged.
What I never backed off on, though, was the reading. The mix of a scene or two here for Chuck’s class (we called the Professor Chuck – he was cool with it) and an essay there for Prof. Schwarz (I doubt he’d remember me now, but goddamn the man was a good teacher) added to a prodigious amount of page-turning kept the fire within stoked and glowing, if not crackling and consuming. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was married and living in Los Angeles and working away at a career in the film industry. (Oh, right, I went to film school in Boston, pursuing as a career the hobby I had enjoyed since age seven. My brother and our friends and I made videos most every weekend, and the “hobby” has transferred into a professional career for many of that cadre, though only in the most oblique way for Yours Truly.) I will not go into the details here, but rather will paint those “early” LA years with the broadest of brush (and only the “professional” parts at that): coming out of film school, I was equipped to do three or four things on any sort of professional level, and two of those rhymed with “Shack Jit,” so I stumbled into work at a small production company, helping maintain and occasionally operate cameras for terrible, wretched little television shows that just make you want to burn things.
Another in the litany of false starts, albeit now with a smaller safety net, that job faded out, I still don’t really know why; I came back from a vacation and found out it was time to find a new gig. Which, after some stumbling, I did. This time it was with an up and coming division of a major movie studio. And things got pretty wild pretty fast. I was twenty three years old and, within a few months, I was going on business trips, running conference calls, managing plural client accounts, and having ever more cash dangled in front of my face. Again, I’m going to make this a very short segment: it turned out there was some suspicious play going on, if not outright fraud (it was probably outright fraud, by the way) by some folks a lot of us thought were good people. Turns out? Bad people. So the division folded and, now almost twenty five, I was kind of back to square one, being as several of my “references” turned out to be, y’know, deceitful, terrible human beings.
So I went on to a job much (I’m being frank here) lower on the totem pole. And thank the stars for that. You see, as my career had seemed ascendant, any little dreams I had long nurtured of writing had drifted away. Give someone a decent paycheck and keep them just busy enough and see if they look over the walls. Challenge someone and see if they don’t start climbing. It worked for me, at least. When summarily dropped from a lifestyle in which I was just growing comfortable, I managed to bounce back, for I had only travelled a little ways from the young man I envisioned being when a slightly younger man. I began to write again in earnest. First I completed feature length screenplay. Then some short stories and a few poems. Then there was this one story that kept getting longer and longer and before long it was a novel, and not too long after that said novel was on shelves in hardcover called THREE A.M.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself on that front. I’ll use a finer brush in the next installment and tell you a bit about it.
Tomorrow: Steven John Day 5: Writing
Steven John and his wife, an elementary school teacher, live just outside Los Angeles in Glendale, California, by way of Washington D.C. and New York, respectively. After attending school in Boston, he moved to the west coast and worked at various jobs in the film industry, never with an abundance of… say… exuberance. Fortunately his wife is a patient, I-believe-in-you type, as had been his family before her. It only took several years of writing at night and during lunch breaks and any time he could find while not under-performing at work before he finally found his groove and began turning out prose at a relatively elevated pace.