My 9th grade science teacher used to say “no question is a stupid question” but I like to think I put that to the test. My first semester I ended up with an ‘F’ in the class, due in part to a leaf project in which I made up my own leaves. I thought it was creative. My teacher thought I was an idiot.
A question I see asked a lot of other writers is “where do you find your inspiration?” And my first though is “if you aren’t inspired a million times a day with ideas, then you’re probably not a writer.” Or at least not a very good one. Now, I’m not saying it’s a stupid question, but… yeah, okay I am.
Luckily, even if you are a terrible writer who asks stupid questions, there is a way to become a great writer who asks smart questions. And the key doesn’t lie in reading scripts or taking classes or collecting all the great books or watching all the great films.
The key lies in living a life worth writing about.
They say “write about what you know,” but obviously if I wrote about what I know, I’d be writing stories about guys who sit in front of their computer checking Facebook all day. (And even though last year’s Oscar winning adapted screenplay ended this way, I wouldn’t recommend it.)
So what does “write about what you know” mean? Well it means write about emotional journeys. Write about theme’s that are important to you. Write about life lessons that you’ve learned as you’ve LIVED life. And that’s the key to being a great writer. In order to be a great storyteller, you have to be a great storyliver. (See what I did there? I know, it’s very Tony Robbins, but hey, that guy’s a billionaire, so there.)
When’s the last time you went on an adventure? The last time you took a risk?
Stop reading this right now and go drive to the beach. What’s that? You live in Arizona? Good! More adventure for you. That girl sitting next to you who you’re afraid to talk to? Ask her out. That job that you’ve done for ten years and hate? Go quit. The brother you haven’t talked to since that fight last Thanksgiving? Go visit him. Go hiking. Go hitchhiking. Crash a wedding. Jump on a moving train. Run a marathon. Take up skateboarding. Go perform at an amateur stand-up comedy night. Strike up a conversation with that weird dude that hangs out in front of your apartment building. Make a new friend. Go treasure hunting. Buy a motorcycle. Surprise your wife with a different gift every day for a week. Climb a mountain. Eat something you’ve never tried before. Get in a fight. Build an orphanage. Take a homeless person out to dinner. Throw a dart at a map. Go there. Call up a random number and see how long you can keep the conversation going. Take a break from all technology – tv, computer, phone – for an entire day, nay, a week. Build something with your hands. Plant a garden. Make a list of 100 things you wanna do before you die, then do them.
A storyteller should have stories to tell. Stories come from EXPERIENCING life. You know why your grandparents have such great stories? Because they’ve lived a life. They’ve survived. The truth is that 9 times out of 10 you are going to fail and you are going to be embarrassed and you are going to make a mess of things. But success is defined not by what we accomplish, but by what we survive. And those are the stories people wanna see up on the big screen.
There are some things you can’t learn by reading a book or watching a movie. If you want to be a great writer, you have to live a life worth writing about. Just like if you want to pass a leaf project, you have to go out and actually gather some leaves.