Thoughts on writing, and how I’ve become a writer.

21 Aug

Adjectives on the typewriter
He moves his words like a prizefighter
The frenzied pace of the mind inside the cell

“Shadow Stabbing,” Cake

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer (also a pediatrician, marine biologist, and teacher….but I frequently came back to “writer”).

In high school I was especially driven by hopes to be a fiction writer.  Friends would give me ideas or themes and I would write short stories for them upon request.  I was the biggest most hardcore dork in the creative writing club.  My proudest feat of the 10th grade was that I wrote a story that was 45 pages long.  I’m pretty sure everything I wrote was garbage.  My inspirations at the time were Stephen King and Clive Barker.  I was fascinated by all things dark and morbid.  I often felt like an outcast.  This is a perfect recipe for angst and melodrama.

Of probably 20 or so stories I wrote in high school, I believe I have a copy of only one, buried somewhere in a box I never bothered to unpack after we moved into our house 4 years ago.  I recall unpacking boxes, seeing the first page of the story, and thinking “I can’t bear to throw this away, but if I actually read it, I will die of embarrassment.”   Every now and then I tinker with the idea of trying my hand at fiction again.  I’ll come up with a theme or an idea, but have yet to put pen to paper.

I started college expecting to focus on chemistry, but hated organic chemistry so much that I abandoned the idea.  I had taken German for a few years and liked it well enough, and ended up majoring in German.  There was a part of me that still wanted to write fiction or creative nonfiction, but I never got around to it.  I took a few film analysis classes, children’s literature analysis classes, folklore analysis classes, and pop culture analysis classes.  I loved learning and thinking about all these topics, but really did not wrap my brain around critical thinking skills.  I could write a decent paper summarizing something, but I had significant difficulty deconstructing things, analyzing things, or interpreting things.  My professors tried to teach critical thinking, they really did.  I remember getting my final paper back in my pop culture analysis class.  I wrote about Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.”  My whole paper was about Oliver Stone’s vision of our bloodlusting, media-fervored society, and how he expressed this vision through extreme gore.  The professor’s comments on the paper: “That’s all very interesting about what Oliver Stone thought, but what did you think of the film?”

In my third year of law school, when I was working almost full time in a litigation boutique, I finally wrapped my brain around critical analysis.  It didn’t matter how many people explained it to me, I couldn’t really understand it until I found myself in a position, day after day, where I had to take an idea, parse it, and develop it inside and out in several different directions.  I had to develop winning arguments, losing arguments, counter-arguments, and novel arguments.  I often found myself in a position where there weren’t any authorities directly saying what I wanted them to say, but I had to interpret what was out there, justify it, and make it work as well for me as it possibly could.

I was listening to an old episode of the fabulous Filmspotting podcast today, and one of the hosts (I think it was Matty Robinson, but honestly don’t exactly recall…) was talking about a student who asked him what he should do to make it as a film critic someday.  Matty’s advice was “Write. Write every day.  Write about anything and everything.  It doesn’t have to be about movies. Just write.”  (ok, I’m paraphrasing)

I still have occasional moments of wishing I were a novelist, or writing clever investigative nonfiction books, or even a film critic.  But honestly, I’m there.  I’ve fulfilled my childhood dream, I am a professional writer.  As a litigator, my job is to read, interpret, analyze, and write convincingly for my client.  Sometimes when I feel gloomy about the 3 sets of discovery, appellate brief, 2 complaints, and research memorandum looming over my head, I remind myself that I am a writer.  It doesn’t do much to get the work done, but it makes me feel better about it.

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