Quitting Time

Ever just want to give up?

Of course you do.  Everybody does at one time or another — you get one rejection, one frustration, one setback too many and suddenly that row of screenwriting books on your shelf looks like an excellent candidate for the next library donation.  Or maybe it’s time to fire up the grill out back and use McKee’s STORY instead of your usual bag of briquets; maybe you’ll throw the laptop on the barbie while you’re at it.

That feeling almost always passes in a minute or an hour or even a couple of days, depending on the extent of the bruising… but what if it doesn’t?  There’s giving up, and there’s GIVING UP.  Have you ever felt the irresistible pull of the latter?

It’s happened to me once.  Obviously I overcame it, otherwise this blog would be a blank screen titled “Ex-WriterDad,” but at the time, I had decided that enough was enough and it was time to pack it in and give up on this screenwriting shit once and for all. 

This episode occurred in late 2003 or early 2004, in the dark days right before I met the Missus.  It lasted about a month or two, the result of spending about a year and a half on a script that refused to come together, a story that started out as a dark mystery/thriller in the vein of Robert Towne and Paul Schrader and somehow morphed into a goofy comedy that owed more to KINGPIN than CHINATOWN or HARDCORE.  Go figure.  In retrospect it’s hard to tell which version sucked more, but either way, I finally realized that I had wasted 18 months on a project that wasn’t worth a minute of my time.  And to make matters worse, I realized that I was making myself miserable trying in vain to get this thing to work — God knows writing doesn’t have to be FUN per se, but if you’re not getting any kind of satisfaction from the process and nobody’s paying you to beat your head against the monitor like that, then what’s the point?

So I bailed.  I was done.  I didn’t do anything as dramatic as torch my notebooks and erase my hard drive, but I boxed everything up and cleared off the PC’s desktop.  Life was too short; I’d find something else to do with myself.  And I felt relieved by my decision. 

… And, of course, five or six weeks later, I was working on something new.  I never consciously said, “I’m back!”  It just happened — an idea came to me, then a few more ideas, then I started writing them down, and before I knew it, I was in the trenches again.  I felt like Al Pacino in CARLITO’S WAY: one minute I’m out of jail and dreaming of renting cars to tourists in the Bahamas, and the next I’m in the middle of an exquisitely orchestrated shootout in Grand Central Station.  Or something like that.

Point is, although I was dead serious about quitting, it turns out that I just needed a break, a little distance.  I realized then that, for better or worse, I’m a writer.  I’ve been making up stories in one way or another all my life, and if my assault on Hollywood ultimately ends up in failure, I’ll still be writing — I may be composing crazed hate mail to former development executives who somehow slighted me twenty years before and who have no recollection of who the hell I am, but I’ll still be writing.

Maybe that’s how you know the writing life is the right one (the write one, ha-ha) for you: you consciously give it up, then discover that despite your best efforts, you just can’t.  And if you can, well… then at least you gave it a shot.  And that’s okay, too.


A Superfluous Addendum:

In case you’re wondering, I’m not actually contemplating quitting at the moment.  The rewrite of the Wedding Comedy is actually chugging along so far (knock wood) and if anything, the birth of the Peanut has only strengthened my resolve to break through as a screenwriter.  Sure, her presence complicates my writing habits…


… but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Okay, maybe I WOULD, insofar as it would be nice to use all ten digits all the time again, but hell, if nothing else, I’m learning to become an excellent one-handed typist.  I’m with Malcolm X on this one: by any means necessary, indeed.

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12 Comments on “Quitting Time”

  1. WhatACard Says:

    Wow, is she ever cute! And glad to hear you’re not hanging up the PC just yet…nothing better than a little hunt-and-peck one handed typing to slow you down enough to think about what you’re writing. Said by someone who’s done, oh, about 3 years of one handed typing 🙂

  2. William Says:

    The two headed screenwriter! Aaaghhhhh!

    I think the incessant desire to throw it all in the shitter and order up a pizza, some wings and a six pack is part of the gig. Let’s take me for example. I had two days, this past Tuesday and Wednesday, to work on my writing. Tuesday was a wash. I was fried from a long weekend of non-sleeping, doing choirs and simply just not into it. The end of the day came and my lady returned from work/daycare with the little nut. I felt like a loser, worthless. Wednesday looked like it was going to be more of the same until I realized I had to get it together. I rewrote a short script that will potentially be the next short film I shoot and it felt good. It always feels good when you punch through and make it happen.

    Sometimes I feel like I’ve learned my lesson enough to just say, “It’s not your night, kid” and move on to do something at least semi-constructive with my time like see a film, read a book or go for a walk. I don’t do that. That’s when I get frustrated and angry with myself for wasting this precious time.

    So to answer your question, “Ever just want to give up?” Yes but I don’t. And I’ve come real close with the boy entering the picture. Then I think about the regret that will take its place and I punch through. I still fight the impulse though.

  3. Robb Says:

    What’s that quote – we all “quit” a million times, but we never “stop.” Something like that.

  4. Scratch Hag Says:

    Newbie here — So it would seem particularly absurd to admit that I have sworn to quit many times without having officially started. Thankfully I have a writing partner (manager, director, etc.) who won’t LET me quit. But then that’s his role. It’s mostly the politics that I find disheartening. (But recently, we’ve become acquainted with some development and production execs that were refreshingly honest. Dare I say polite…accommodating even.) We have a handful of screenplays in pre-production hell and one (which we were commissioned to write) that is juuuuust about to start shooting. This will be my first project to make it to production. I telecommute from one of the flyover states, so I’m very disconnected from the “real” filmmaking community. Both a blessing and a curse. Heavy on the former so far. I keep hoping if…I mean, WHEN…this first project comes to fruition it will somewhat subdue further impulses to bail. But wisdom is the daugther of experience, I’m told. And — don’t tell my writing partner this — deep down, I’m even more panick stricken at the thought of having walked away without knowing what might have been regardless of the outcome. P.S. WriterDad, I truly enjoy your blog posts. As a parent myself I assure you that third arm will sprout soon. It’s amazing what you learn to do while totin’ young’uns!

  5. WriterDad Says:

    WhatACard — thanks! Like I’ve said, the Peanut has ended up a cutie in spite of her daddy!

    William — the Missus just read your comment and said, “Sometimes I think William is you.” Should we finally reveal my/your/our secret? 🙂 Glad to hear you overcame your recent slump — I know how tough it is to break the self-loathing cycle. Man, DO I…

    Robb — Amen!

    Scratch Hag — congrats on the progress in your career. And the way you describe your relationship with your writing partner, it sounds the way I’ve always hoped a collaborator would help me. (I recently began working on a new project with a co-writer for the first time, but we haven’t gotten deep into the heart of darkness yet.) Glad to hear you’re digging the blog — y’all come back, ya hear? 🙂

  6. William Says:

    Alright everyone. WE have something to tell you….

    It’s funny you mention Towne and Schrader, SHAMPOO and HARDCORE are both in the top ten of my Netflix queue.

    Some interesting reading about SHAMPOO:


  7. matt Says:

    Read david o russell in good magazine on shampoo. He’s very insightful.

    And as a newbie you should never spend more than half a year on a single spec. The risks outweight the rewards.

  8. WriterDad Says:

    William — Thanks for the link. I have to admit, I’ve never actually seen all of SHAMPOO — that’s been in my Netflix queue for years now — but HARDCORE is great. Flawed, but great… Schrader is (or was) the man, even when his scripts were compromised a’la HARDCORE or ROLLING THUNDER, which is well worth hunting down if you’ve never seen it.

    Matt — I’ll have to check out the mag. Thanks for the tip! And yeah, I’ll never again go through something like that again — I learned my lesson, and at least it was early on…

  9. I am new to all of this screenwriting/writing malarkey so I am still full of enthusiasm and optimism. Thankfully, I have yet to feel the niggle to quit. Your unfolding story is a great reference. Thanks.

  10. In the middle of every screenplay I take a solemn vow to never, ever write another one.

  11. WriterDad Says:

    Millar — enjoy the enthusiasm and optimism while it lasts! Not that writing should be a slog, but as someone once told me, “It’s the great job there is… but it’s still a job.” Glad my story/blog is useful for you. Keep reading!

    Dave — for me, the mid-screenplay experience is that I take a solemn vow to never, ever finish the one I’m working on because I hate it so much. 🙂

  12. Lucky for us we’re crap at keeping our commitments.

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