This piece is dedicated to the late, great Nora Ephron (May 19, 1941–June 26, 2012), a master at filling the page with memorable moments and reflections. She will be missed.
I have represented writers and directors since I was twenty years old. A young pup. Now, at the very young age of forty-one, I do have a breadth of experience that anyone who wants to write for any medium could hopefully benefit.
Early on, before I was in the film and television business, I read all of the classics. Many of these gems were not written by men or women whose sole focus was on marketplace. Do you think Mary Shelley was sitting at her desk when she was sixteen writing Frankenstein thinking, “Hmmmm, I am going to write a ‘monster movie’ that will live on for centuries and become a television and movie franchise?” Firstly, if you read Frankenstein, you know it is not in the monster genre. It’s about a being who was created and could not find a place in the world. It remains a classic because, on many levels, it speaks to worldwide issues of feeling misunderstood and not having a place in the world where you feel comfortable.
Every day in the news, you see stories of people who unknowingly feel like a modern version of poor ol’ Frankenstein.
I think the major point of singling out this particular classic is to write stories that can speak to many people, but it does not necessarily need to be in an on-the-nose, obvious way.
For me, it is all about voice and writing what you know.
When reading scripts, I can tell by page five if a writer has written for the marketplace and money. To be brutally honest, I usually set the script down and use it as a coaster or a doorstop.
Finding your voice is a craft that needs to be honed. Sure, you can have a great idea, but taking your time to find out how to make it a layered, character-driven story with redeeming qualities should be your priority. And one can never expect that to happen overnight.
One of my all-time favorite writers, Eudora Welty, said it best when she wrote, “To imagine yourself inside another person…is what a storywriter does in every piece of work; it is his first step, and his last too, I suppose.”
Tenacity is crucial. Writers write. No excuses unless you are laid up in bed with the flu. You write even when it feels like you are pulling teeth. If you get one great paragraph out of ten pages that you have slogged through, then your time was well spent. You never know where that one paragraph can lead you down the road. Most writers worth their salt are not too precious about what they have written, and they are not too proud to crumple up multiple pages and start from scratch.
Lord knows, I have. Sometimes the mistakes you make in the process are what lead you to a piece of work of which you are incredibly proud. Mistakes or wrong turns should be seen as a learning tool, not a failure.
Also, just like in life, your story and characters need to have arcs. Have you ever had a day or week where you feel exactly the same way as you did at the beginning? Your journey as a writer should be reflected in the lives’ of your characters as they travel through the story you are telling.
As Douglas Pagels wrote, “Each new day is a blank page in the diary of your life. The secret of success is in turning that diary into the best story you possibly can.”
I have told thousands of writers over the years, even if they were clearly just entering into the writing life, that the only talented writers I have ever seen fail are the ones who give up.
You may hear more “nos” than “yeses” but don’t let that define you. Often it can be like chipping away at a brick wall. It’s hard work, but the payoff can often be indescribable, whether it is monetarily or creatively.
Be organic. Write what you know or feel; it adds a richness to your work that cannot be manufactured.
The blank page can be the scariest thing for a writer, so you have to get the words down and get ready for the voyage.
As Natasha Bedingfield said, “Life is a blank page. Each person holds their pen and writes their own story. ” I believe she also made bundles of cash and sang, “The rest is still unwritten.”
And finally, don’t even consider giving up on your passion. No matter what form it takes, as long as it’s not against the law.
Mary Shelley sure didn’t, and she didn’t even get compensated for what her debut novel became for many generations to come.
Rogers Hartmann is a longtime literary manager, and now producer, writer, and activist. She has appeared on OPRAH with Michael J. Fox, THE TODAY SHOW with Meredith Vieira, TED, and countless other network programs. She speaks to kids and adults alike across around the world about her journey to wellness while battling Dystonia.
*Photo by jacqueline-w.