I don’t like to use the word “hate,” but there is probably no better way to describe how I felt about making up stories when I was little. I truly HATED it. Whenever someone wanted me to “tell a story,” I couldn’t stand it. I went out of my way to avoid doing it. I remember when I used to play G.I. Joes with my cousin and brother and my cousin came up with the idea of pretending we were each making our own movies. We used sections of his room to pretend they were our own movie theaters and everything. But I hated that. Being younger than both of them and simply trying to fit in, I think all my effort went into that and for anyone who knows what that’s like, it was very intimidating as a nine-year-old.
The strange thing about that was that it was evident then and even before that I loved writing. Of course, I wasn’t writing anything of significance as a seven-year-old (about when it started), but back then, I had this intense fascination of copying stories from somewhere else onto paper. Anything. I would take the TV Guide, get paper and just write the listings as they were in there. My mother would have a magazine here or there. I’d take the magazine, find some random story and just start copying the story onto my paper. I had no idea what the story was about and it usually was some grown-up thing that made no sense to me. My mother read a lot of Cosmopolitan and Redbook back then, so you can imagine some of the looks I got when someone saw me sitting there and copying a story.
Basically, anything that had words, I took and copied on paper.
When I reached the age where we started reading books for school, I was doing the same thing. I’d read some, but copy more. When we’d read a chapter in school, I’d do the homework or classwork and then just start copying what we already read. Eventually, someone asked me, “So when are you gonna write a book?”
I was ready to fight. Didn’t this fool realize that I HATED the idea of writing…
Wait a minute. Did he say “write a book”? So I get to WRITE something? As long as I don’t have to MAKE UP a story, I’m all ears.
Over time, more people asked and I figured out that somehow, they thought I had this mad ability to write books. By now, I’m a teenager, but I still hated the idea of telling stories.
But I LOVED the idea of WRITING them…somehow. What?! Does that even make sense? How can I love the idea of writing a story, but not making up my own? For some reason, people took my love of copying things and turned it into an ability to write books. Not to mention, I was a teen and they were assuming that I was good enough to write books, without having read anything I’ve written. Of course, back then, the world was just crawling with teen authors, right? I just thought people were weird to think crazy like that.
But were they really so crazy?
Over the years, those people who kept saying that I should “write a book” just nagged at me until I realized that, with my love for English and all the writing I had done up to that point, maybe it was time to take a leap and try it out. I think my first time may have been at 18 when I was in Army Basic Training.
Yes, you read that right. Army Basic Training. The first time I ever attempted to write a book was Army Basic Training when I was 18 years old. By the time I started, I had already written letters to just about everyone I could think of and very few letters came back to me, so I wanted to do more writing. I can’t even remember what this book was about, but no one knew I was doing this. I think this may actually be the first time I ever mentioned it.
Needless to say, I didn’t finish and many times since back then in 1997, I’ve started books and never finished them. Most of the time, they touched on my real life, which made it sort of easier, but at one point, I realized that just because my real life was involved, that didn’t mean the ENTIRE story had to be true. That’s when I ALSO realized that that’s exactly what “Based On a True Story” means. Before then, I thought it meant the entire thing was true, but it wasn’t.
So I sort of unintentionally left my comfort zone of writing everything that was totally true and added fiction here and there. Little things; I didn’t use my real age, my height was different, I had a different girlfriend; things like that. Over time, this became a little easier.
I didn’t get this right away, but I eventually realized that by then, I have MANY times done exactly what I always thought I hated; I was MAKING UP STORIES. AND IT WAS FUN.
Fast forward to about a few years ago. I’m talking to a friend about our daughter and somehow, the conversation ends up on something totally crazy; having a house full of girls. Then the conversation went to my wife having triplets and them all being girls. On top of that, we somehow brought drama into the discussion and she briefly mentioned how funny it would be that while my wife is pregnant with these triplet girls, I somehow got another woman pregnant during an affair and she too, will be having triplet girls.
How ridiculous. Two women pregnant with triplet girls at the same time? Then she has the nerve to say, “You should write a book about that.”
Again, I say, HOW RIDICULOUS. But for some reason, something in me said, “Just write a paragraph or two, just for laughs and let her see it.” I did this. She thought my writing was great, but who hadn’t at that point? I’m in my early 30s at that point, so by then, it wasn’t exactly mind-blowing when someone complimented my writing. I knew that writing was something a lot of people did not like to do, so I think many were easily impressed and it may not have anything at all to do with me. After she saw those few paragraphs, she said, “Keep going.” I thought, “Hell, why not? We’re getting a kick out of this, so I’ll give her another paragraph or two.”
That was THREE BOOKS AGO.
While others have read these books and told me they enjoyed them, I’ll be the first to admit that they are certainly not best-sellers or anything near Stephen King-caliber. I only mention him because he’s one of my mother’s favorite authors. I still remember his books around the house and these books were bigger than, well, me, and Mom went through these books in a matter of DAYS. I also mention it because with him being someone I knew my mother liked, I often considered doing that whole copying thing with his books, but when I once opened one and saw four digits where the page numbers were, I ran out of the room screaming and waving my hands.
So how did I get to screenwriting? Well, once I finished my books, they were all self-published, but I wanted a professional publisher. As I figured this out, Amazon had this “Breakthrough Novel Award” contest going, so in back-to-back years, I entered it.
The second time I entered, as I waited for the results, my friend Lisa posted on Facebook that her childhood friend Peggy had just published her first book. Peggy now has two books published and is well on her way to a third, but when I saw that, the timing couldn’t have been better. I sent a message to Peggy to congratulate her and to also ask about her publisher. She didn’t hesitate to let me know her publisher and she encouraged me as well.
The publisher turned me down cold, but it was expected as I was just starting out with this. Shortly after that was the second time I missed the first round of Amazon’s contest as well. I was pretty frustrated, but I knew that this was certainly not a sprint, but a marathon. I couldn’t have spent all that time working on these books and not have the stamina to push on. No way. Peggy even encouraged me after this. I could’ve easily just said, “Well that’s easy for you to say. YOU were accepted,” but I didn’t feel that way. I felt like Peggy wanted to really be helpful and encouraging and considering how rare that is these days, I certainly did not want to push her away. It’s a good thing I didn’t. She has connected me to so many writers and writer’s groups, and I am so thankful to be able to talk to fellow writers like this every day.
Now comes my journey into screenwriting. There’s not much to tell here because I’m still relatively new at it as I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half, but my whole point of writing all this was because it’s amazing how much in love I am with screenwriting and more surprising of all, telling a fictional story. There are people who think I am absolutely lying when I say that I hated telling stories at one time, but it’s the truth. It’s funny how things work out.
I honestly think that my disdain for telling stories, despite what I originally thought, had nothing to do with me feeling I wasn’t good enough. It was always in here. I just hadn’t dug deep enough to pull it out. The good thing is that once I started, I never felt that I was “forcing” anything. Unlike so many things in life, it felt so natural.
Today, I’m still working on making my screenwriting dream come true. I sit down and I love every minute that I am writing. I still discover every step along the way just what is in my head and I have so much fun letting it out now. I never thought in a million years that I would not only enjoy telling fictional stories, but that I could become very successful at it and more importantly, it could become very inspirational for a lot of people. The latter is what drives me to love doing this every single day and I wouldn’t trade this feeling for anything.
As for my friend Peggy, her two books are titled (in the order written), “Fireflies” and “Hope From The Ocean.” She can be found under the name P.S. Bartlett. Check out those books when you get a chance. I’m in the middle of “Fireflies” right now and it is a GREAT story.
She also has a blog here at http://www.psbartlett.wordpress.com. Peggy is a very intelligent, FAMILY lady who shares her thoughts on her family and her writing. Please check out her blog as well.