I could go on forever about the bad things my father did in his lifetime. Probably one of the worst was the way he tried to take over any interest I had. When I said I liked bowling he pressured me into joining a bowling team run by a coworker. I started doing greenware and he dragged me down to some hole in the wall full of old ladies. If I even mentioned some interest or hobby, he insisted that I needed to join clubs, take lessons, and listen to his long-winded lectures about the topic that he was suddenly an expert in. It got so bad that I started hiding what I was doing to prevent his obnoxious interference.
The worst of the bunch, though, was what he tried to do to my one true passion in life. I’ve been a writer since before I could actually write. Back then I told science fiction and adventure stories on a tape recorder or drew little comics of them. Eventually I learned to write and started creating little picture books, then I was introduced to the computer and word processing programs. My writing medium changed over the years and my stories have evolved greatly since those first taped tales, but storytelling has always been my purpose in life.
Enter my father and his constant compulsion to take over. I don’t know what it was with him and my interests. He always had some need for me to say “daddy teach me,” but he was gone at the point in my life when I would’ve asked, so it never happened, so he elbowed his way in anyway. One of his worst offenses was with my writing.
The jerk never liked my stories and was constantly trying to tell me what to write. He always criticized both the stories themselves and the various characters I created, but none of what he said was constructive criticism. There was a lot of eye rolling, saying the names of characters in disdainful and derogatory tones, telling me that no one would like my books if I kept writing these tales, and even going as far as questioning my sanity and accusing me of obsessing.
His battle plan really started when I began home school in the sixth grade, when he turned my writing into required lessons. He assigned me to write a book and spent the whole time picking it apart, assigning strict deadlines, and lecturing me for hours on end. Combine this with his above criticism of my work and you end up with a nearly two-year writer’s block. That’s right, the person who had been telling stories their whole life stopped being able to write at all.
I got to high school and he kept on going with his mission to make me the writer that he wanted. We had more than one argument during class registration time when he insisted I take journalism classes. When I refused, he pouted and said “okay” in that tone that he used when he thought I was being stupid. It never occurred to him that not all writing is the same and I wasn’t interested in journalistic writing. I didn’t need lessons and clubs to pursue my passion.
Years passed and eventually the fool decided to take up writing himself. Now, along with his vicious attacks of my work came a sense of arrogance and superiority. He was suddenly an expert in writing who knew everything there was to know on the topic. I was forced to sit through even more long-winded lectures that went on for hours without end. I remember one time I talked about an idea for a series of short stories and he launched into this huge speech about how to market the stories, which I tuned out after a few minutes. It was like this whenever I mentioned a story I was working on, so I stopped after a while.
My father’s own excitement over writing continued. His nose in the air and his ego grossly inflated, he bought all the books on writing that he could find and read them like the latest novel, then he got to work on the story he knew that everyone wanted to read. These stories were cliché, full of over-blown description, too much dialog with little action, and clear misogynistic themes, but he kept going. Of course he never hesitated to tell me on numerous occasions that I needed to write like him and how much better he was than me, and all the people who supposedly praised him.
It was only a matter of time before that metaphorical pin popped his ego and sent him tumbling into the dirt. He entered several writing contests but never won. Actors turned down his scripts for not having enough depth. People yawned over his excessive dialog and predictable plots. One after the other, his creations were rejected. When the Sci-Fi Channel turned down a script because they said it wasn’t good enough, he knew he’d hit the bottom, and what a thud it was!
I remember the evening clearly. It was just after that last rejection and I was writing on my laptop at the kitchen table when he quietly approached and asked for my advice. I hoped my double take wasn’t too visible. This was a moment I never thought would occur in any of the years I’d dealt with his know-it-all interference.
“Do you really want to know?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “What am I doing wrong?”
I pointed to his latest rejected script sitting on his nearby desk.
“Is this something you’d watch?” I asked. “Is this something you’d read? Is it something you’d really get excited about if you found it on the shelf of a bookstore?”
“It’s what I thought would sell,” he said.
“There you go,” I replied.
He had struggled so long with his writing, trying to pound out story after story. Despite all his bragging, all he’d ever accomplished were segments, broken chapters, and summaries. The few things he managed to complete were all rejected by the very people he wanted to impress. Now, after all this time, he finally wondered how I’d beaten him so sorely.
“Because it was never a competition to me,” I said. “I don’t write to compete. I don’t submit stories to contests or try to sell scripts and books. You know why I write?”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because nobody has ever written the stories I want to read,” I said. “That’s why I write. I don’t care about money or book deals or publishers. I write the stories I want to read and the scripts I want to watch. Because if I don’t, no one will. Write what you want to see on the screen or read in the pages of a book. This is the only advice I can really give you.”
He didn’t comment after that, but I could see he was thinking. Without another word, I went back to my story and he wandered off to his desk to look over his rejected script. I’m not exactly sure what he was thinking at that point, but I guarantee he was not reading a story he enjoyed.
What is the point of this blog entry? Well, I’ve encountered a lot of questions from other prospective writers about writing itself. The only advice I can give is the same advice I gave to him.
Ignore those books about writing, stop attending those conferences or writers groups, and stop with the creative writing classes. You don’t need to be an English major or take journalism classes. Don’t worry about what might sell or how your readers will like your creation. Forget all that conceited drivel that dribbles from the mouths of certain professional writers. None of it matters. The only thing that is truly important is if you like the story and it’s something you want to read. Because, as with any form of art, when you have no passion in your work, when you are focused on the technical instead of the spirit, it shows.