Quitting to Start (part 2)

Then something amazing happened…

Or not so amazing. Maybe it was utterly predictable. I asked myself what exactly I was crying about. Was it because, after years of trying to score a big sale, I was humiliated over having it all add up to nothing more than a lot of good Hollywood stories, one script on a cancelled show — and some jars of face cream as empty as my bank account? Or was it is because I knew how long it would take to get a psychology degree and establish a practice? Or maybe it was just that becoming a psychologist was such an utter cliche for a failed writer.  My “understanding of the human condition” and experience with mental illness — having it, living with it — hardly made me special. My barista had a more harrowing past than I did — he didn’t think that qualified him to get paid to give advice.

But that wasn’t it. I was crying because a voice inside me — clear and final — said, “suck on it, Marti Noxon, all you want to do is write.”

That hadn’t always been the case. When I was around 12, a hippie friend of my hippie mom read my palm. She told me I had “writer’s thumbs” — and that was what I was going to do. Write. (When I was much older, she also told me she had seen a pronounced break in my life line. Which was an alarming portent. She was right, but more on that another day…)

I was pissed. How dare my stupid, hobbity thumbs consign me to such a drab profession? My dad was a documentarian. He wrote gorgeous narration over all kinds of animals doing all kinds of things like screwing and getting poached. He seemed happy enough. But I vividly remembered my mother telling me that he wrote a novel once. He worked on it for years. And when he was done he was so unimpressed and/or ashamed of what he put in those pages that he burned the one and only copy. That sounded like torture. I already had plenty of self-loathing. I didn’t need to labor over new things to hate about myself. Besides, my low opinion of me made me a rampant approval seeker — an aspiring sparkle pony. I wanted to act or sing or do something that required all loving eyes on me, please.

But years later, my thumbs made me write a screenplay. (Actually, having no money did — I couldn’t afford film for my thesis project at college, so I wrote a script.) People liked it. A company optioned it. And I was like — “hot damn, this is easy!”

But it wasn’t easy. I got trapped in an endless cycle of almost-but-not-quite. That optioned script never got made, of course. Neither did the 10 or 15 other scripts I wrote after my one miraculous sale. And the writing itself was grueling. Most days my aforementioned self-loathing sat down at the computer alongside me and cheerily informed me of my stunning inability to make words goodly. Other days I’d finish a draft and get a huge high. This was the one. This one was the ticket to my sparkle pony dreams. Move over, Joss — “is that even a real name” — Whedon! That next big sale was mine.

A day or so later I’d read again and…deflate isn’t even the word. I’d implode. My work wasn’t working.  And I didn’t know what the problem was. Just that the stories didn’t feel like the stories I loved. There was a plastic, forced quality. I didn’t want to see it — but there it was. I wasn’t a fan of mine.

Fuck my fucking fortunetelling thumbs. The hippie told me I’d be a writer. She never said I’d be a good one.

So discovering that I wanted to write, that it felt inescapable, was kind of a shocker. I’d put in so many hours, studied and procrastinated and tried and stopped and tried again. But I didn’t know until that moment that it had become part of me. A part of me I was unwilling to abandon.

I asked myself the next logical question. “So if you’re resigning yourself to a life as           full-time assistant, part-time writer of things that aren’t very good and don’t sell  — what next?”

I decided that I’d been writing for Hollywood for too long. I was writing to sell, striving for that undeniable log line. As much as my chatty inner  voice — let’s call her Lady McButtpants, loved to tell me the profound ways in which I sucked, she also enjoyed telling me I needed to write for the marketplace. So while my stuff was often clever, it was also clearly calculating. (I mean, I really think “Mrs. Doubtfire But She’s a Ghost” could of been something. But besides that.)

The good news — I literally had nothing to lose. I decided I would strive to write about the things that were vexing me, the things I found delightful or sad or just plain weird. I would try to quit”clever.” If clever happened, fine. But honesty was what I was missing. In my life and on the page. And when Lady McButtpants piped up, I’d tell her to put a sock in…her pocket. Since, being  a butt in pants, she has no mouth.

See what happened there? I got amused by La Femme Butt Pants. I saw her. We had a little chat about where she puts her socks. Sophomoric and indulgent. But getting lost taking dictation from the endless cast of nutbags in my head — that’s what freed me. Having fun.

That’s what writing started to be a lot of the time. Fun, escape. 

I find escape in cruel anthropomorphized trousers. And raw exchanges between characters who are each equally and passionately committed to very bad plans. In conflict and talk about boogers. And best of all — in an unexpected moment, a nugget of truth so raw it feels like I’m trespassing on the characters.

I quit living for outcomes and starting living for capturing the world as I saw it on paper. I wrote bedtime stories for myself. And my writing came to life. Within a year I got the job on Buffy. With Joss Whedon. My favorite fake-named person ever.

I quit, and then I was finally able to start.

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