In the film 180deg South, Yvon Chouinard, longtime adventurer and founder of Patagonia, made a comment about how we handle obstacles and that going backwards is only a figment of one's imagination: You can take one step forward or you can turn around 180 degrees and take a step forward. Which way are you going? And which way is progress?
As I inched my way toward the close of the year, I glanced over my shoulder and took stock. My apartment in Atlanta was finally fully furnished and felt like home, my Philly condo occupied by a caring scientist from Japan. My hard work in my new position had earned me an all-expense paid reward trip to Grand Cayman, Pina Coladas included. I had no complaints. Though for as good as things were, my unfinished novel still haunted me.
"I think I want to write a screenplay," I said to Leslie in December, both of us sprawled out on chaises on our parents' Florida lanai.
"The literary market is dead. Hearing James Patterson speak in November and seeing my friend with a two-book deal plug away at teaching made this incredibly clear to me."
"Right, so do it!"
"I think that's why I can't finish my novel. It feels like a useless dead end."
"Seriously, do it. Now can we get back to discussing Bethenny Frankel and her divorce rumors?"
Within 24-hours, I rang up my friend in Los Angeles who, thanks to her gym membership and gregarious personality, knows award winning writers and producers, one of which was standing on the stage at this past weekend's Golden Globe awards. "She knows the one next to Clooney," I bragged to Leslie. Anyway, my friend gave me some advice, noted craft books I should read, and told me to have fun. The last part was my biggest fear. It has been years since I found writing fun.
A few weeks ago, I made some free-thinking notes about my manuscript. I sketched a timeline, noted key scenes, identified relevant characters. Then I set that aside and picked up a book by Syd Field. Last night, as I curled up on a flight back from Chicago, I pulled out the craft book, broke back the spine, and started reading. Eighty pages and more than a few neon yellow highlighter streaks later, I looked up to see us touchdown in Atlanta.
"This book is brilliant," I said to Leslie as I shoveled in bites of takeout Thai food she had grabbed for me. "And I'm kinda baffled why this was never required reading for my MFA."
I excitedly explained that character is defined by action, not words. It is the inverse of writing a novel. And through action one tells a story.
"No, this is actually really fascinating," she said when I apologized for spending ten minutes analyzing the characters in 'Silver Linings Playbook.'
"I know, right? Oh, and by the way, I met a guy on the train back from the airport. A Brit. Who likes tennis. We shared a cab."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that. Huh. My bad."