Friday, March 29, 2013

In Which I Find Out What It's All About

There's come several times working up the outline for my script that I've wondered about my subject material.

I believe in the premise.  I believe in the overall theme and idea I'm trying to convey.  I believe in the characters, and the story, but . . . there's nagging things.  Is what I'm writing about too silly?  Too stale?  Too broad?  Too niche?  Too hot, too cold, too hard, too soft . . . stop me before I get a little blonde-haired rugrat eating my porridge.

It's fear, to be sure.  Something about the act of writing is weirdly embarrassing.  It's like public speaking, except you usually aren't there to hear the reactions.  You don't know if they love you or if they're jeering.  The feedback is anything but immediate, and unless you're one of the rare folks writing with a partner you're all alone out there.  You have nothing but your own good sense and taste to judge what you've written.

Trust me, I'm well aware I'm at a considerable disadvantage there.

Moreover, it's wondering if it'll all work.  For me, it works in my head.  I can see most of the scenes already.  I've even cast the roles with my friends in mind, just to give me guidelines on how these people should sound, what their limits and lack thereof should be, etc.  But just because it works for me doesn't mean it'll work for you.  Oddly, that same sentiment could apply to most religious wars . . .

It's a gamble.  You're rolling the dice on the story you're telling.  Are you coming up with something people will find innovative?  I'm reminded of being at summer camp, and how many dozens of fireside variations I've heard of "the hitchhiker with a hook."  But there's always been at least one guy who knows how to tell the definitive, shit-your-pants-and-your-friend's-pants-too version.  There are no new stories, only different permutations.

That's the rub: finding a combination that's fresh.  It has to be something that works, not just for you but for just about everyone.  It's not about the grandest, the biggest, the loudest.  It's just about making it right.

Pants-shitting optional.

In Which I Talk About Why I Want to Do This

There are a lot of simpler ways to make money than trying to break into writing.

I often hear about how lucky I am I make any kind of money at all with my videos, and I'm not going to lie: it's true.  Lucky, no question.  Tons of you want to do the same thing; your ultimate goal is to wake up, type up a script, shoot it, edit it, and throw it on the web. You want to not only be recognized and appreciated, but to be able to make your way in the world today without it taking everything you got.

I was lucky enough to get that, to an extent.  It wasn't about having talent or being better, though I think I have some talent and take pains to do what I can with my production values.  It wasn't about deserving it, because if anyone ever got what they actually deserve in life it'd be a nightmare.  It was a lot of right place, right time.

That's not to say I don't value the opportunity I was given and work hard to be worth it, though.  I try to keep doing work that's worth seeing, say things worth saying, throw some laughs out there along the way.  But I recognize there's always an element of chance in these things, and now I've set my mind to doing it again in a different medium.

As I've said before, the competition isn't just fierce, it's got live wolverines in its boxer shorts to boot.  That means I'm going to have to do my absolute best, and find a way to make my work exceptional. Most of all I have to make the best and most of any opportunity that comes my way, however small.  It means I have to keep looking all the time, and see if there's some way to get a foot in the door.  Hell, I'd even settle for getting a shoelace in there.

All that having been said, why would anyone in their right mind put themselves through it?  After all, I have other marketable skills.  I've been in tech for over a decade.  I've got certifications.  I can likely find a decent paying position in a lot of places.  It would be steady, reliable work, with a weekly paycheck, benefits, 401k, all that jazz.  I wouldn't have to worry.

I'd just be miserable, is all.

Yes, I'm having to look for work to suppliment what I already make so I can not only support myself but save up as well.  But the thing about that is I'm intending to leave it behind once I've got a floor under me.  I don't want to do tech work.  It's fun sometimes, it's interesting, and it's reliable.  I'll concede those points, sure.  But my heart's not in it. There's no creation to it.  There's no soul.  It's augmenting and perpetuating the visions of others.

I want -- okay, need -- to do more than that.  I want to put something out there that didn't exist before I came along, and will remain after I'm gone.  I feel and think a lot of things I want to convey to others, if only to impart something I believe to be important.  I want to be seen, heard, and respected for what I contribute to the vast nonsense of our patchwork culture.

I've done that to some extent, else you wouldn't be reading this right now.  But it's not enough.  It's the difference between a gig and a career.  It's about purpose.  It's about being fulfilled by my own efforts.  It's about doing with myself the only thing that has ever made me feel as though I know why I'm here.  It's not going to be easy, and it might not even work.  But I believe I have something important to say.

Y'know.  Beyond dick jokes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In Which I Write About Writing, and Not Writing

"Where do you get your ideas?"

Every writer gets this.  Hell, I even get it; lots of folks want to know from whence some bizarre nonsense I deigned to put on video spawned.  Although to be fair, you can't just dance in a rubber gimp suit on the internet and not have somebody want to know what the hell it's all about.

Actually, strike that; yeah, you probably could.

Depravities of the externalized human memory aside, there's never any good answer to that question.  There's all sorts of okay answers: life, pain, joy, observation, introspection . . . you name it, somebody's claimed it.  But in my experience, ideas come from wanting to have them.

It's that simple.  It's an urge to say something, express something.  It's trying to communicate, but doing it in a way that words can't encapsulate.  Think about it: you can tell someone the entire plot of Casablanca, but it won't be the same expression of the concept as sitting through the film.  The nuance, the flavor, the zen of the thing is lost.  Someone wanted to say that specific thing in a way words just wouldn't contain.

Ghostbusters isn't about catching ghosts and feeding Rick Moranis to a helldog; it's just the form that the need to speak took.  The Big Lebowski isn't about a layabout freeloader who ends up in a lopsided noir adventure; that's just the way that concept had to come out.  Transformers isn't about dogs humping and robots peeing on -- wait, no. That's exactly what it was about, sorry.

My point is, the thing communicated is more than the setting, the characters, the interesting twist that's put on it all.  They're just a different kind of talking.

So what do I need to say so badly?  A few things.  Things I've learned, things I took away from experiences, and that overall epiphany that ties it together.  In short, I'm trying to explain the sound of one hand clapping.

Knock that off, you double-jointed bastard.

I think . . . I'm afraid, however.  The trappings of the story leave you a lot of room to feel foolish.  I'm afraid it won't be any good.  I'm afraid it will be silly.  I'm afraid that once it's done, I'll feel like it wasn't worth it.  Mostly I'm just afraid that what I have to say isn't going to be considered worth saying.

Writing is solitary in creation, but once it's out of your hands you either reap the acclaim or suffer the consequences from everyone who deigns to read it.  It's one thing with the videos and reviews; not that those are inconsequential, but I'm trying to express a lark and a laugh there.  Nothing more, nothing greater.  But when you set out to tell the big story . . .

It's funny how scary a blank white screen can be.

In Which I Comment On Boundaries

There's a reason we make videos on the internet: we want to say things to you.

We want you to hear our opinions, laugh at our jokes, be impressed by our wit and be influenced by our ideas.  We want to give you new concepts, stories, viewpoints.  And we don't want to just talk to one or two of you; we want to say these things to hundreds.  Thousands.  Millions, even . . . but since my videos don't involve nutshots or kittens, that's something of a pipe dream.

So we want to connect to you, yes.  But there's another side to it: we don't want to give you everything.  We can't.  We'd go mad.  You can only unload every single aspect of your life for so long.  Turning the private public has consequences.

Someone who comes at you and gives you all of it isn't exactly appealing, either.  You know this person.  We've all known them; in our younger years, we often are that person.  They're the ones who corner you at a party and by the time you've pried yourself loose, you're covered in a thin, sticky layer of unburdened soul.  It's unsettling.  Intimacy of that kind usually comes in time, and it's usually hard-earned.  Someone who tries to jump into that particular fast lane often can't even reach the pedals.

We set up limits, then.  We decide what we can and can't share.  Some of us are comfortable letting you in past the threshold; some of us don't take the chain off the door.  Usually it involves putting a persona between us and you, even if we use our own names.  But it's what we do, to protect us from you, and protect you from us.

Sometimes it's . . . difficult.  I've been going through tumultuous times and when things are lonely or I feel low, there's a strong temptation to reach out.  I want to grab my megaphone and shout into the void.  Hurt and fear can do that to you; it leaves you desperate, in need of reassurance and affirmation.  But I don't.  It's not fair to you, or to me.  You come here for the jokes and occasional witty insights, not to be coated in emotional spittle.  Well, most of you; I'm sure that's a fetish for one or two of you.

I had to open that window a little wider lately, mainly out of a different kind of desperation: economic.  I can't even begin to express how shamed and humiliated I felt at that point.  I bent a bit and I sacrificed some dignity for the sake of survival.  The true and utter bitch of it is I was planning a new project for later this year and taking it to Indiegogo or some such.  Now?  Now I don't feel that's appropriate, given how generous you all were.  But that's drifting off topic.

I tend to be fairly open and honest about what's happening in my life, to a point.  I have nothing in my life of which I'm particularly ashamed.  Embarrassed, sure . . . google search my images, there's some cringe-worthy shots our there.  But ashamed, no.  There has to be a cutoff, though.  You're an audience, and I respect you.  I think you're fantastic, in fact.  I'm very proud to be considered worth your time.

But we're not friends.  I'm not saying this to insult you or hurt you, cross my heart.  In fact, some of you out there have become my friends, over time.  It can't just be a wide-open door, though.  We'd both be sorry if that happened.

I'll end this little meandering by saying I'm okay, before you start worrying about a meltdown or outburst.  So far as our relationship of audience/loud jackass is concerned, we're fine.  While I appreciate your concern, anything past that wouldn't be fair to either of us.  It's not you.  It's me.

Except you.  Hands above the desk, buddy.

In Which I Develop a Mission Statement

I get scared sometimes.

I'm old.  Not incredibly, I'm aware.  36 is not "old" old.  I'm barely grazing middle age.  I sure as hell don't look like I'm less than half a decade from 40.  I've even kept my hair, until irony decides it wants a good laugh.  So yeah, I'm by no means ready for the glue factory just yet.

But when you want to do something in entertainment, anything past thirty is a methuselah.  Anything past forty is impossible.  It's the sensibility that once the rounded edges in your features have sharpened up, once you settle down and find yourself looking forward to sleep as much as you would sex, once you give a damn about things like retirement and savings accounts . . . once you get there, you have no place near stage and screen.

Yeah, I know about Alan Rickman.  There are always exceptions.  But people seem to emphasize his age above the fact that he's Alan fucking Rickman.

It's how the game is played.  It's a reality I not only came to accept but to internalize and guide me.

When I was younger, I wrote.  In high school, I had access to a computer in my home for the first time; via WordPerfect 5.1, the results were a pile of juvenile but earnest novels.  While most of them have been lost to time (thank god the floppy went obsolete), one or two survived.  They were a little purple on the prose, but for someone that age, not all that bad.  College saw me an English major; my creative writing class was a solid 4.0.

But as I tried to put together a life I developed a really bad addiction to "eating" and "sleeping indoors," both of which I still suffer from to this day.  For over ten years, I spent my life following a different track: tech work. It was the sensible thing to do.  It was easy for me, and it was the track to a good life.  Writing was put aside and slowly ignored as I worked harder and harder to find a career.

That career never came.  Tech work in the south is rather merciless.  It's a series of contract jobs, or hourly wage jobs, or not-quite-forty-hours-a-week jobs.  People are replaced easily and often, and clawing your way up to something better means unseating the senior techs above you somehow.  It slowly became less and less practical.

In doing videos on the internet and in having a small but enthusiastic audience, I've put myself in a position to do something completely the opposite of sensible: pursue writing for a living.  If I'm going to be clawing and scraping and living hand-to-mouth, I might as well get some damn enjoyment out of it.

That's not to say I entirely know what in the hell I'm doing.  It's a hard thing to break into, writing.  We're in a digital age, and everybody with a keyboard, a blog and AdSense is a writer now.  Every single one of you reading is my competition.  The only question is, how serious are you about it?

How serious am I?  I'm in my mid-late 30's.  I'm the demographic that advertisers start ignoring.  In terms of media, I'm well past my prime.  I am not to writing what Rickman is to the screen.  Fuck, I'm barely a downmarket Bubba the Love Sponge, truth be told.  So this?  This is scary shit.  The odds aren't just not in my favor, they've got a grudge and a baseball bat.

So what am I doing about it?  I'm not just leaping off the bridge this second.  At the moment, I'm trying any and all job opportunities presented to me.  Paying the bills is first priority, but also saving money and building up a war chest so that when I decide to flat out take the plunge I'll be able to keep up with that pesky eating thing.  It's not gonna be forever, though. In three years, I intend to be paying the bills by writing for a living.  From there, we'll see.

But the first step is the writing.  There has to be a little every day, just to keep the work coming, keep the ability sound.  Mine's been neglected a great deal lately; time to change that.