There’s a scene in Aaron Sorkin’s very smart, very funny, and very cancelled Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip, when a newly-hired television writer scopes out his office. From the room’s disarray, we gather it’s been abandoned for years. Still, when he flicks the switch to turn on a countdown clock, the display announces to the second when his next show will air.*
In that moment he receives an indelible message: “You might feel you’ve arrived, Mister TV Exec-u-tive, but you’re only as good as your next performance. That’s when the world will sit in judgment. And the world never rests.”
I’ve been living with that clock for a while now, peeps.
I’ve felt its presence when I asked good questions of industry professionals on Twitter and been ignored, but bad questions through longer emails to which I received kind and informative responses. I’ve written mediocre pieces to fill a gap on my blog and watched them go viral, sometimes for the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, good pieces done from the right place were greeted with thunderous silence.
How does this make sense?I’ve asked myself. How can I wrest control to thrive in this environment? What are the rules? Inform me, o Magic Eight Ball of the writing world, so that I too might succeed.
It will come as no shock to you that this orientation-to-the-other messes with my head, not to mention my writing production. (Especially first draft writing production.) I have no choice but to change what I’m doing. So…I have two goals with this post:
- A public commitment to reset my thinking to a more internal locus.
Guess what? You lucky people just became my new source of peer pressure. ;) If you see me about, feel free to ask if I’ve already put butt in chair that day, or if I’m wasting time on measuring the past.
- No way am I the only one to lose touch with my values.
I see those of you concerned with your BookScan numbers. I see you hurting over your Amazon rankings, your reviews. Your Twitter Klout.
If “how am I doing?” is the wrong question to pose for some of us, what should we put in its place?
Let’s turn to another scene from Studio 60 to glean possibilities. In this dialogue, Harriet is the show’s female star, and Matt, the writer I referenced above:
Harriet: I got a laugh at the table read when I asked for the butter in the dinner sketch. I didn’t get it at the dress (rehearsal.) What did I do wrong?
…Matt: You asked for the laugh.
Harriet: What did I do at the table read?
Matt: You asked for the butter.
Peeps, it’s never too late to become brave and write what you must. It’s never too late to state your intentions and use that declaration as a way of pushing yourself forward, past the fear. It’s never too late to learn the questions that will guide you to the next baby step in your writing career.
Personally, I need to get small again, ask things of myself like:
- What would my character do in this scene?
- When will I make time today to write the next 100 words?
- How do I feel about this piece?
- If granted insight, can I be as gutsy as Betsy Lerner? She says things about writerly envy like “I’m as jealous as two slugs fucking in a snot can.” I want me some of that brass.
What will be your questions? Do you need to change your orientation?
If you know these answers, please take them to the comment section below. And if you are one of those mysterious creatures never troubled with such issues, share your thinking processes.
In the meantime, do me a favour and pass the damn butter. There’s a plate full of dinner rolls with my name on it, and someone’s recovered her appetite.
*I was turned onto this show by the smart, funny, and thankfully still-publishing Joshilyn Jackson.