It’s now been exactly 30 years since I got a story idea that still occupies much of my creative heart. I wrote this blog post to show how long it sometimes takes for a story to reach its moment, its fullest potential, and how to never give up.
I first conceived of it 30 years ago, as a teenager. I outlined it that year and drafted it as a screenplay five years later, in college. After graduation, I decided to re-write it as a television miniseries. Since then I’ve written it as a novel (currently under editorial review) and have re-written the miniseries countless times (including a current rewrite I just submitted to an industry professional this week). I have outlined and drafted two sequels.
We all have a project we don’t want to give up on — but we still wonder what the heck is ever going to happen with it.
Taking a break from a few writing deadlines this past week, I visited our storage space over the weekend to do some overdue summer purging of ‘stuff’ in general — yes, I’m ashamed to say we have a storage space for endless old files, supplies, decorations, tools, and household items.
It’s also where I keep a lot of old writing drafts, manuscripts and notes. Some of the papers I uncovered this weekend were of outlines and ideas I had completely forgotten about — and I was excited to think about their possibilities going forward.
Then I found something else.
“George Banks will be honored.
George Banks will be redeemed.
George Banks and all he stands for will be saved —
Maybe not in life, but in imagination.
Because that’s what we storytellers do:
We restore order with imagination.
We instill hope, again and again and again.”
In the memorable film, Saving Mr. Banks, the character of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has just shared a series of painful memories to help author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) understand that producing a film version of her novel Mary Poppins (borne of her own painful family memories) would be meaningful not only to him, and to audiences everywhere — but also to her.
Walt Disney concludes his moving monologue with the lines above. I had to replay it several times when I first saw it. It is a remarkable moment in the film and a moment that likely resonates with anyone, but particularly with those of us who consider ourselves writers or artists.
In my freshman year of college a few things happened where I felt I had to decide between being a musician and being a writer.
I had gotten to the point in the repertoire as a violinist where I’d either have to become a professional or keep it as a hobby. To take the professional route would require me to spend a dozen or more hours a day in practice and let go of most other time commitments in my life. I had concertized; I had been in orchestras, even toured a bit — but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted above all else.
Alongside my musical studies in those years, I also studied theater, acting and playwriting. It just so happened that in this same period of my freshman year, I had entered a young playwrights festival contest and got word that I was one of the contest winners. The prize was to have my play produced professionally.
The process of seeing my play come to life for the first time — working with a director and dramaturg, doing revisions, watching actors audition to play my characters, seeing them bring the roles to life — all of it transformed me. My words, my thoughts, my voice were not only coming out but being affirmed by professional artists and by audiences.
As an 18-year old, this took me in a direction I didn’t quite expect. Music was always my main thing; theater was second. But winning that contest and seeing my play performed in front of me that year clarified my decision.
I decided to be a writer.
Why? For the “glory”? No. There were gloriously satisfying moments as a musician too — performing solo on stage to enthusiastic applause after hours of learning a piece, winning regional or national competitions, touring the country. It required my creativity, my being, poured into the work, just like with writing. I knew that either field would require a lot of un-glorious work, rejection, and persistence, like in any arts field.
What was different?