by Evan Nasse
Originally posted to the 49 Writer’s Blog
When I was first asked to be a guest blogger for this website, I had already sat through a 2 hour lecture from a Pulitzer Prize winning author, and had two of my short stories passed around a 400 level college writing course to be dissected and workshopped. My work was—is—going to be exposed; some will like it, others might hate it, there will be criticisms constructive and destructive in nature. Last year I was one of three scholarship winners for writing, and each of my professors that approach me and tell me I’m a brilliant writer have only read a minor sampling of my work and that was mostly through my academic essays. I have rarely shared any of my creative writings with others, friends or family alike—mostly just my teachers and even then it was assigned creative writing works. At the most, I’ve been graded and judged on writings that were requested of me, none of it my private canoodling or works that I consider my own serious endeavors. And now, not just one, but two of my pieces will be on exhibition. I fear that my works will reveal me as some sort of fraud—cries of people calling me a hack, using generic tropes and adhering to a systematic churning of words and phrases into clichés. I am awaiting the first actual workshop session where this will happen.
I began college knowing that I did not want to work shitty, dead-end jobs like I had been since 16. At 25, after hitting rock bottom, I decided it was time to change everything and admit to myself that I’d need to go through school and not wind up like the poor bastard who just brought me my skillet here in IHOP as I write this. Already this guy has been yelled at 3 times by the same 3 customers-all from one table. He hustles back and forth, taking orders, delivering food for thankless slobs to shovel down their engorged necks who are probably going to stiff him on the tip, all because the restaurant is understaffed today and he’s stuck waiting both main areas of the diner. Sadly, I do not contain the fortitude or constitution to put up with that kind of trash and keep smiling, I’ve already been fired once before for telling off two bosses for almost the exact same situation. So, I enroll in school-again-and begin taking classes, knowing that the only thing I’ve ever been good at is entertaining myself with words and stories, and even then I have no frame of reference to compare with others. So a liberal arts degree it is! Oh how excited I was to learn of others who share my enthusiasm towards writing! And entertainment! And movies! And excellent storytelling, dialogue, plot and character development, oh my!
That’s also when I learned of the popular perception of liberal arts majors-professional part-time artistes who lead a double life of hopeful endeavors with a side of day job barista or dishwasher. Even moreso if you become a Master of Fine Arts. Good luck with your expensive, useless degree—you might get lucky and become a teacher, because nobody wants to hire a LA major with a MFA for an $80K a year job. Sigh. Oh well, so writing amazing screenplays doesn’t guarantee me a job, it’s no longer like film-making from the 1950’s to early 1980’s, where Hollywood producers were actively seeking talent for new independent properties such as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, or even Barry Levinson’s Rain Man. No, Hollywood has found it’s formula and it’s Transformers: The Something of Buzzwords, or Generic RomCom with Ryan Reynolds & Jennifer Anniston or Superhero Sequel 10: The Sequel Nobody Asked For or Rebooted Franchise-Third Time’s the Charm. Michael Bay has a net worth of over $400 million dollars, his movies have grossed over $3 billion dollars world-wide since 1995, and he maintains an average rating on Rotten Tomatoes of roughly 30% (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/celebrity/michael_bay/). I honestly hope audiences aren’t confused as to why the film industry is in as poor a shape as it is.
So, here I am. First semester of my second year is underway, I’m in the midst of other creative and brilliant minds, whom shall look upon my works in a way I’ve only let very, very few see and I am thoroughly stressed—constantly. I’m struggling with everything that isn’t writing, yet managing somehow to pull through. I think I’m doing fine, but I’m also doubting every single positive step forward, as if I can’t trust myself to succeed, just to perform a spectacular fuck-up and prove that my purpose in life is to serve as a warning for others of what not to do. “He spent how much on his degree? Really?! Shit, what’s he gonna do now? Guess he should have gotten that engineering degree like everyone else in his family did. They’re making loads of money, he should have listened to his dad.” But I am, ever as my dishwashing MFA example from earlier, hopeful. I write because I love it, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. So what if I don’t land the job that I want, writing screenplays that get turned into award winners, or at least inspire and entertain others? Maybe I’ll land a job writing elsewhere, writing elsethings. Time will tell. I won’t be hopelessly romantic or cynically bitter about it, I know how the process for screenplays works. I’ll be lucky if mine gets looked at, luckier still if they read the first page, astronomically lucky if the screener gets to page ten and passes it to someone else to read it all and write up a synopses for a producer to glance at—maybe. It’s a small sliver of a chance to get into film and television production, whether it’s writing, directing or other. Not every novelist gets to be Stephen King, not all screenwriters have the chance to be Kubrick, not every professional cotton fiber, flaxen thread architectural engineers get to be Hazel Tindall(she’s the world’s greatest knitter, in case you didn’t know http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/scots-mum-crowned-worlds-best-969203). You have to try though, otherwise we wouldn’t have those great people doing their great things.
Postscript: Oct. 20, 2013
The above blog post was for the aforementioned wonderful people at 49 Writers (http://49writers.blogspot.com/) a little over a year ago (almost exactly a year, in fact). Since then I have shared many of my works, written two more screenplays, been published, achieved another writing scholarship and even tooted my own horn once or twice. Looking back at this piece and feeling the same sort of anxiety regarding everything outside of writing tells me that I am doing something right, or I’m incredibly lucky in the way I’m doing everything successfully wrong. I do, from time to time, still feel somewhat pointlessly stressed—money, approaching deadlines, etc.—but much less so about the distant future. The only wrong way to look at the future is negatively, because nobody wants to hang around a Pouty Pete or a Debby Downer—positivity is the only way to go forward and that’s how I’ve been trying to do it for some time now.
It is funny, too, that I am writing this postscript at the very same IHOP in which I penned the first rant. The kind kid who was being lambasted and criticized by the restauranteurs from before (as an aside; you should treat everyone in a manner you wish to be treated, except for the people who handle your food—you treat them better) is no longer employed here. Where he went or why he left I do not know, but I do hope he decided to make a better life for himself than staying employed at an IHOP could offer. There is nothing wrong with waiting tables or working in any of the customer service industries—as mentioned before I myself have worked that very same miserable racket of being exposed to the lowest common denominators in our society. Many successful people have been there as well. It is one of the quickest ways to build character, learn how to manage stress/stressful situations, and become thoroughly immunized to useless phonies, angry assholes and windowlicking freaks—essentially subjecting yourself to some of the lesser forms of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” in exchange for a paycheck.
Just don’t let yourself get lost thinking about the next workday. You have to think about the next opportunity, or else you’ll endanger your future by settling for less and less until you think there are no opportunities left. Even if it’s an opportunity that’s unique to you, like holding the record for Most Toilet Seats Broken By The Head In One Minute (currently held by Kevin Shelley with 46 toilet seats http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/most-toilet-seats-broken-by-the-head-in-one-minute/) as long as it makes you happy. Now go out there and be somebody!