(Art Holcomb knocked it out of the park for us with a guest post six weeks ago. He’s back, another killer contribution. This guy is good. L.)
GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY
by Art Holcomb
“An exhaled breath must be cast away from you before you can take another.”
Years ago, a friend of mine was writing a mystery about a famous abandoned house in Northern California. David had teased me with this book for a very long time and after much cajoling and nagging on my part, he agreed to let me read it.
He finally showed it to me at a party over the Christmas break from college. He sat me down in his spare bedroom, handed me this beautiful leather binder, thick with each chapter tabbed and labeled, and then quietly left.
I was in for a treat. I held my breath for a moment.
And I read . . .
And, as I read, I grew even more excited. The first chapter was good, opened well, excellent visuals, with pacing and language that was capable and accessible. And I loved the characters.
The first chapter had been 34 pages long and absolutely left me hungry for more.
I flipped the tab marked CHAPTER TWO over and . . .
Twenty blank pieces of typing paper.
I went through the rest of the binder and it was the same thing: 18 more tabbed sections of blank white typing paper.
About which point, David couldn’t wait any more. He came in and nonchalantly asked how I liked the story.
ME: I love it! Where’s the rest?
DAVID: Well, that’s all there is so far.
ME: I thought you’d been at this for a while.
DAVID (proudly)I have been. I’ve been rewriting the first chapter until I got it right.
ME: For how long?
DAVID: Eleven years this February.
I couldn’t believe it. I was startled at first and then I experienced something that surprised me:
I started to get angry.
I wasn’t upset that he had been working on a story for eleven years; I, in fact, had several ideas that I’d been working on since I was in high school that I was never able to get out of me. But eleven years on the same chapter, writing it over and over again, refining, polishing, rewriting, perfecting? This seemed less a labor of love and more like Sisyphus pushing that boulder uphill.
At this rate, David was scheduled to complete his Great American Novel 54 years after his death . . . assuming he got past the first chapter.
It was a great effort doomed to failure. The squandering of what I saw as a real and special talent and it upset me.
We talked about it, but I was never able to get him to see that this was less a novel and more a delicious sort of penitence. That unless he let that chapter go and move on, this wonderful story would be relegated to that binder forever. We discovered that there was a real fear that lie for him just beyond the tab marking CHAPTER TWO.
We grew apart in the years that followed and, in that time, I met a number of people like David, who were caught in a loop, unable to take a step out of their comfort zone.
I’ve often wondered what separates the Davids of the world from the writers who go on to have long careers and satisfying relationships with their talents?
In the end, I think it comes down the combination of FAITH and TRUST.
FAITH that you have more than one idea in you, that you don’t have to be defined by a single effort, that your next chapter can be better than your last.
And TRUST in the breadth and width of your talent, and that not only can you see yourself completing that novel but that it will be just one part in a great body of work . . .
And, most of all, that you will have an audience out there .
In the end, regardless of how any single effort comes out, you have to be able to let it go when finished . . .
And take that next breath.
Success will always lie in the difference between what a person can do and what that person WILL DO!
And you can do it.
Make your talent count for something. Work hard. Dig deep.
And then . . . move on to the next challenge.
Art Holcomb is a screenwriter whose work has appeared on the SHOWTIME Channel and has written for such comics as Marvel’s THE X-MEN and Acclaim’s ETERNAL WARRIORS. He has appeared as a guest and taught at San Diego Comic-Con and other conventions. His most recent work is THE MEADOWS (with Mark L. Haynes), a science fiction police procedural.
An “It’s About Time Larry…” Announcement Disguised as an Update
Just added a “Search” function (top right-hand column). As Storyfix nears 500 posts… well, duh.