a college essay from 2007…
When I reflect on the experiences that have shaped me as a writer, my earliest memory is in the fifth grade. My fifth grade English and literature teacher introduced me to the broad and unrestricted world of creative writing. It was a world that had many similarities to another world with which I was familiar—the world of art. Although I was unaware of the similarities between art and writing at the time, I can say now that I was drawn to both of these because they provided an opportunity to be creative. Before I even picked up a pencil and began to write, I always enjoyed drawing, sewing, painting, pottery, and origami. Yet, my perfectionist personality never fared well in the art room. I was convinced that true artists— painters and sculptors—never made mistakes. After all, paint brushes did not have erasers. But writing was different; with writing, I could revise.
Discovering the world of writing finally gave me, a self-proclaimed loner and introvert, the creative outlet that I needed. All my alone time—all the time spent thinking—added up and resulted in more words and ideas than my mind could handle. Even the times when I was with friends, I found myself drifting off into another world. “Are you even listening to me?” my best friend Allison would ask. “No, sorry.” I wasn’t listening. The words in my head were much louder than hers. So instead of keeping them all locked up inside my head or losing them altogether, I wrote them down. Sometimes I wrote letters to my friends, letters that I would never have them read. Sometimes I would write a poem simply because a rhyming couplet popped into my head. Other times I would play out a series of random scenarios between two or more characters. And the more I wrote, the more the scenarios would come to life in my imagination. I came to realize that I actually wanted to see them play out in front of me, and I wanted other people to see it too.
We’ve all heard the question, probably more than once. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In the fifth grade I thought I wanted to be an architect. It involved drawing. I thought it was right up my alley. But when my mother told me that it involved using rulers as well I quickly changed my mind. In the seventh grade, I thought I wanted to be a broadcast journalist; however, I soon discovered that I had a fear of speaking, both in public and in front of the camera. It was not until my sophomore year of high school when I realized that I wanted to write screenplays. For years I had had numerous worlds and universes existing inside my head. People with names—people I had never met— were living their lives in my imagination. I think, in many ways, I was trying to live vicariously through them. My life was boring. I spent my Friday and Saturday nights watching movies from the local video store. And I guess that’s when it came to me. I wanted to write movies.
It wasn’t until I learned I had to have back surgery halfway through my sophomore year that I finally took the time to start drafting my first feature length film. Prior to that, I spent most of my time outside of school playing tennis. But as a result of my impending surgery, my doctor ordered that I stop all physical activity. My boring life became even more boring. Any hope I had had of winning a state doubles title was now crushed, and I suddenly had all the time in the world to think and to write.
I vividly recall beginning to write my very first screenplay while I was up north with several girls from the varsity tennis team. As they skied, I sat in the lodge with my bad back and began to write my first of many failed attempts at a screenplay. I was writing with pencil in a thick blue journal with unlined pages. I started with an outline of characters that I had written on a piece of loose leaf during math class. This was the only portion of a screenplay I ever wrote out by hand. Upon returning home from the up north excursion I transferred all the dialogue onto the home computer. Then after writing some sixty pages, my mind began to wander. I was not happy with my work. If it had been a drawing, I would have ripped it up and thrown it in the trash. Instead I right clicked the mouse and selected delete. “Are you sure you want to send ‘Script – The Staff’ to the recycle bin?” “Yes.” It appeared as though my perfectionism was still wreaking havoc on my creative endeavors. I made several more unsatisfying attempts to write a screenplay after my initial effort. For some reason, I was never proud of a single thing I wrote. Sometimes I couldn’t think of a worthwhile ending. Other times I just felt like I was stealing ideas from other movies I had seen. I was plagued with a lack of originality.
I can now say that what started as very amateur and immature work evolved into fictitious worlds that reflected my complex emotions and personal ideologies. Rather than recreate something I had already seen or heard, I decided to recreate myself through the characters in my screenplays. Although I have yet to finish a single screenplay, I am proud to say that there are five very promising “works in progress” saved on my laptop. In addition to that, I have about a hundred new ideas running through my head daily. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. At times, I think too many ideas can create too many distractions. But there is no way to stop ideas; they just appear.
I thought that having the ability to revise would benefit my perfectionist personality. Instead of ripping up the paper and starting all over again, I could just change the parts I didn’t like, and no one would be the wiser. But in many ways, revision leaves me drowning in an endless array of possibilities. How will I ever finish something when it can have an infinite number of endings? How can I finish something if revision gives me the ability to constantly improve it? I am unable to answer these questions largely because every unfinished screenplay I’ve written is a question in itself. What’s going to happen? How’s it going to end? Well, I’m not quite sure.
Ultimately, the decisions I have to make as a writer are going to determine what becomes of my screenplays. Just as a painter has to decide when his painting is finished and just as a sculptor has to decide what clay to leave and what clay to take away, I have to decide what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s complete. I’m still a perfectionist. Even outside the art room, I cannot escape it. But I refuse to be done with my writing until I am completely happy with it. I refuse to show my work to other people and let them criticize it when I still have this nagging feeling inside my brain that says “I can do better.” I used to think that I wrote for other people’s approval, but the only approval I really seek is my own.
I have come to understand that a writer is no different than an artist. The ultimate goal—creating something completely original—resides over both professions. After all, Hamlet is no less of a masterpiece than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or the statue of David. Although I hardly compare to Michelangelo, my craft bears similarities to his. Instead of a canvas on an easel, I have a word document on a computer screen. Instead of my hand guiding the paint brush, my fingers type the letters. I do not sculpt with clay or marble; I sculpt with words.