I've been hesitant to post about this for a few reasons, and finally decided that all those reasons were lame and that being an open book is best.
I'm writing a novel.
But I am first taking a break from this novel to write a screenplay.
The novel was coming along nicely in terms of output. Those of you with young kids know how difficult it is to get work done when the kids are around, so actual productivity is restrained to the few hours per week during which they are both in school, and is always, always accompanied by a metric ton of laundry. What was most difficult, however, was processing the emotions that came up in the course of the work.
The novel concerns the suicide of a friend of mine when I was 18, and encompasses some other childhood issues that, upon closer examination, had gone unresolved and unexamined by me. You do what you have to do to survive and things get swept under the rug. Until you decide to peek under the rug and then can't stop crying because the job of cleaning under the rug seems insurmountable. I had to take a break. I am not one to hide my emotions from the kids, but I can't be a good functional mama if I can't pull myself together day after day. Processing this crap would have to go back to the subconscious level for the time being.
Then in the course of reaching out to gain particular insight into one of the characters of the novel, I came across a woman whose story moved me so much, I decided to write a movie about her. This would be a perfect break from dwelling too much on my own past by recreating hers.
Enter The Asshole Voice.
"Who are you to write a screenplay about anyone?" the Asshole Voice demands. "You've only written two, and those haven't even been made into movies. You're not a Hollywood player!"
Let me tell you about The Asshole Voice. Most writers already know The Asshole Voice quite well, but I'm going to call her out anyway for the purpose of exorcising the demons and permitting others to tell their own Asshole Voice to STFU.
The Asshole Voice mocks. The Asshole Voice scoffs, sneers and belittles. Sometimes she doesn't even say anything, but I can see her rolling her eyes. She leaves a silent blank space where a chunk of "hey, nice job!" should go because she doesn't do compliments. She is unfailingly sarcastic.
My Asshole Voice is female. She sounds like the voice of a friend, and goes under the guise of "I'm only telling you this for your own good." But there is nothing good about what she has to contribute. All she does is take away.
I've managed to write through some projects (this nearly 10-year-old blog, for instance) always with The Asshole Voice in my head. I will write a piece and just before I hit the publish button, the Asshole Voice squeals, "YOU CALL YOURSELF A WRITER, THAT IS HILARIOUS!!!"
But something happened that has changed my relationship with The Asshole Voice. I was invited to join a writers' group several months ago. I had to show up with pages. And these two seemingly completely unrelated characters that had been pinging around in my head for years started shouting to be heard. Some kooky part of my brain saw a connection between them. So I wrote about them. And I read the first five pages of my novel to this group of strangers with shaking hands, sure that if the group echoed The Asshole Voice, I wouldn't need to go further; the choice would be clear.
But that's not what happened. No, there were no euphoric proclamations of my brilliance. There was interested and thoughtful attention to what I had done. There was emphatic pointing out of things that were strong and resonated. There were questions about details that weren't clear. There were genuinely helpful suggestions to squeeze me past places I had felt a little stuck. But above all else, there was encouragement. "Keep going!" they said, excitement and love in their voices and hearts. The Asshole Voice sat in the corner and silently fumed.
During my self-imposed mental health break from the novel, the group was individually and collectively supportive, offering sympathetic ears and endless amounts of warm hugs that I needed so badly. Some of them had already gone through this and knew exactly what to do and say.
So I'm gearing up to do the screenplay, something I love to do which I haven't done since before the kids were born. And somehow in the two weeks between writers' group meetings, The Asshole Voice found a way back in. "This subject matter is too big for you. You only went to community college. You cannot possibly do justice to this woman's story. Why don't you let the professionals handle this." Now The Asshole Voice has taken a new tack and is approaching me from a pragmatic angle. But I have to acknowledge that I'm buying her bullshit less and less. You know what, bitch? If not me, then who?
Which brings me to this: The Asshole Voice cannot survive without the energy I give her. She doesn't show up when something good is happening in my life since she can't be bothered. I'm going forward with this project, and then I will be going forward with my novel after that. I'm sure she will have lots of new mockeries to throw my way, but my people have made her hogwash less easy to believe.
I will be posting a piece later today about my latest muse before I start blocking out the scenes for her script and then folding the darks and towels and doling out after school snacks. But in the meantime, I have to say -- Friends, dump that Asshole Voice! She (or he) is not serving in your best interest, or in the best interest of what you have to offer the world. Only YOU can tell this story.