Quitting to Start (Pt. 1)

About 22 years ago, I was sitting on the floor of my apartment, trying to fill out an application for graduate school. I was 30. I was almost six years sober, and my body was healthy. I had a good job as an assistant to a great writer, Barbara Hall. I had a rent controlled apartment in Santa Monica. I could walk to the beach. I was dating a nice guy. And I was crying like a little baby.

I’d reached the end of my rope trying to make it in Hollywood. I was done. I’d sold a script years earlier, on a show I worked on as an assistant. I thought it was the beginning of my career. I got a check for more money than I’d ever seen before. And because I didn’t know how to manage money, and my self-esteem was in the toilet — I spent it all on face creams, mocha ice-blendeds and some dumb stuff too. And worse, I didn’t get more work as a writer.

I got an agent, but every script I wrote stalled. I’d get encouragement, but never a sale. And I was writing to sell. In those days the big fish for writers was selling a spec feature or a pitch for millions. I remember vividly reading about this young hot shot, some guy named “Joss” — he of the pretentious “whatever” name, my envy told me — who seemed to be selling hot script after hot script for stupid amounts of cash.  All the writers I knew were chasing that golden ticket, a bright shiny future that hinged on one genius logline only a sentence long. Often they were hybrids — “Frankenstein meets Remains of the Day” or “Flashdance meets Patton” (okay I made those up but you get the idea.)

My nadir in this pursuit was the pitch — “Mrs. Doubtfire, but she’s ghost!”. I wish that was one of the fictional ones. But no. My rabid desire to prove to myself  — and my dubious parents — that I was a real writer had made me so desperate to sell, it had turned me into the stuff of my nightmares. A hack. A pandering hack. The kind who read the trades and seethed with jealousy over some wunderkind named “Joss.” My friends from college and high school were lawyers and doctors and getting married and having lives — and I was still asking my boss “do you want fries with that?”

Nobody was taking me seriously. My agent has suggested he’d work harder for me if I slept with him. (More on Hollywood Harassment in another post — but for now suffice to say I left that agency and ended up at a c-list place down the road… ) I felt like whatever chance I’d had — I’d blown it.

So there I was sitting on my floor, wiping snot from my upper lip and trying to decode the financial aid forms in front of me. I’d already been rejected as an applicant for the California Highway Patrol (again, that’s another post) — my Heather Locklear fantasies were in tatters along with all the others…

And that’s when something amazing happened. That’s the day I became a writer.

(Part 2 coming soon!)