Last week, I finished the first draft of my screenplay. It was a goal I’d set for myself so long ago – a goal which I had so often delayed – that part of me couldn’t believe that I had actually achieved it, and that I was really, truly, typing the words “Fade Out” on the bottom of page ninety-eight.
However, though I felt an initial surge of excitement upon reaching this milestone, my joy quickly turned to dread. I felt scared. Heavy. Worried.
The negative self-talk started screaming through my brain. “You finished it?” “So what?” “It’s not done. Not by a long shot.” “You’ll probably never finish it.” “And even if you do, who cares?” “Your story isn’t particularly interesting, Sarah. No one is going to want to see this movie.”
It took me three days after completing the first draft to force myself to sit down and read the whole thing from beginning to end, with an eye on what needed to be clarified, edited, and fixed. The process was horrible. As I read along, my self-judgment got worse and worse. Words like “stupid,” “cliché,” and “boring” sprang to mind. One particular scene made me laugh out loud as I covered my mouth in horror, thinking, “I can’t believe I wrote that.”
And on and on it went. My younger self would have been so discouraged at the end of it, I would have buried the entire document in a folder on my laptop and not looked at it again for months, until one night after I’d had too much wine and was feeling masochistic, I’d pick it up again and cry my way though it, bemoaning my poor talentless self and all the months I’d wasted on writing something that was never going to be any good and was never going to see the light of day.
But I am not my younger self. I am older now, and I – usually – know better. The older me took all of my harshest criticism and wrote it down, trying to make my notes as constructive as possible. The older me reminded myself that first drafts are almost always terrible, and I didn’t write this first draft to be brilliant, I wrote it to get to the end. The older me knows that this process is painful, but also knows that the only way to make the pain stop is to keep writing, keep pushing, keep showing up and doing the work. The older me knows that I can’t give up, because if I do, the unfinished work will turn into yet another unrealized dream that will haunt me. And I have too many of those already, thank you very much.
I am fortunate enough to have lots of amazing friends who are actors, writers, artists. And I believe that if we’re honest, we all grapple with the same fears, the same longing, the same self-doubt. We all worry that we’re not talented enough, not smart enough, not unique enough to add our voices to the crowded chorus of storytellers already out there in the world. But it’s not just the artists, is it? Don’t we all harbor a secret “Who do I think I am?” that holds us back from taking bold steps toward our biggest dreams?
After beating myself up for a good long time, I picked up my much-beloved copy of Steven Pressfield’s book “Do the Work.” (If you are trying to finish anything, get it, use it. I am not kidding – this book will change your life). I paged through it as I often do, to remind myself that nothing worth doing is ever easy. I laughed when I got to this part on page 46:
Sometimes on Wednesday I’ll read something that I wrote on Tuesday and I’ll think, ‘This is crap. I hate it and I hate myself.’ Then I’ll re-read the identical passage on Thursday. To my astonishment it has become brilliant overnight. Ignore false negatives. Ignore false positives. Both are Resistance.
And then, in big, bold letters, he writes:
In the end, I have no control over whether people love or hate my story. By extension, I have no control over whether people love or hate me. Making people love me is not my job. My job is to show up and do the work on a consistent basis, and to try every day to get a little bit better. The story that’s burning a hole inside of me deserves that. So every day, I try to remind myself that the process, not the end result, is what I have control over. The process, not the end result, is what demands my focus.
And I also try to remind myself that I have a community of friends and supporters – many of them right here on WordPress – with whom I can share my process, my fears, my journey. And this community reminds me that there’s nothing wrong with the struggle. The struggle is part of the story.
Until next time, friends.