I started writing a screenplay once.
It happened last April.
On April Fool’s Day, I posted to Facebook something I thought would be ridiculous and obvious and that everyone would just have a good laugh at. But something unexpected happened… most people didn’t realize it was a joke. They didn’t realize that it was an April Fool’s joke because they accepted the story I made up as plausible. They believed in me. So the joke was on me.
Here’s what I posted:
The title was foolish yet believable enough to pass as a Tyler Perry movie, so that even after I revealed the status was a hoax, I kept having to explain to people that is wasn’t real and that there was no forthcoming Tyler Perry production titled “God Don’t Like Ugly”. The majority of the Facebook comments were super encouraging regardless. I thought about it, and decided if they believe in me, perhaps I AM capable. I thought, “why not write the screenplay… just as a joke”, but then I decided maybe it could be worth something, so I decided to write it for real. The big problem was that I am just not a connoisseur of Mr. Perry’s work (no shade), so how could I write an honest spec script? Understand, it’s easy to be a critic, especially when one is not putting his or her own work out into the world; I choose appreciation rather than criticism. I appreciate the work for what it is. I appreciate Tyler Perry for working hard to make his ideas happen, carving out a market for himself, persevering in the face of criticism, taking risks and constantly putting his work out into the world, and being the best at what he does. His plays and movies make his intended audience happy. I do not fault him for what his work is not, most of the time, it is just not for me. I haven’t seen most of his body of work simply because it may not showcase characters I most relate to or does not reflect the kinds of stories I am drawn to. Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”. The onus is on me to start telling stories I want to hear… yet, I still wanted to prove something to myself, or at least to the people who believed in me, so I still set out to write someone else’s story: Tyler Perry presents “God Don’t Like Ugly”.
The screenplay I wrote was pretty raw: I never came close to completing it; the characters weren’t fully fleshed out, and the plot lacked clear direction. However, I was content with what I did. I finally stopped because I realized I wasn’t wholeheartedly invested in it. My heart wasn’t in it and my initial motivation couldn’t sustain me. I was only writing something I hoped to sell off to Tyler Perry productions and then remain hands off. Just take the money and run. I was not even concerned with my name being attached to the project. If it actually did get produced and did terribly, I would have regretted receiving credit.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end with an unfinished screenplay collecting dust. Two unexpected things happened as I wrote the screenplay. First, I had to confront the things I did not know. I was unskilled at writing a feature length screenplay. I was both naive and arrogant for thinking that I could quickly write something that takes years to master. I did not even know where or who to submit my work, even if I had finished. Secondly, I began sneaking into the story. The type of story that more closely related to the kinds I like to see started edging it’s way forward and demanding to be heard. All the late nights I spent writing and all the daydreams I devoted to sculpting the story and characters got me attached. It was no longer okay with me to ghost write a script, to give birth then give it up for someone else to raise. I was going against my nature. I am a nurturer, and nothing I do is purely motivated by money. Money is a tool to me. It has influence to provide needed resources. It keeps me from going hungry or naked. It is instrumental in the fulfillment of goals and detrimental to them when you don’t have enough. I have never felt comfortable doing something simply because the money might be good. There was very little chance of selling the screenplay or earning any money, yet even if it was a possibility, I couldn’t pretend that I was willing to do that.
I couldn’t pretend that I was doing it as a satire either. I had thought about it too deeply and invested too much of my creative energy. Parts of me, my own style of storytelling and the things I value, kept slipping in. The project was becoming less “Madea’s Family Vacation” and more “The Diary of a Precious Black Women” based on the novel “Move or be Pushed” by Aquamarine (my birthstone *wink*).
I learned a lot about myself last April. One was that I was serious in my desire to make a living as a writer, and two, that I had done little about it and was clueless as to how to make it happen. I enjoyed the challenge of learning what I could and developing the story. I stopped writing the screenplay and started looking for more ways to write for myself. I also started seriously thinking about what I wanted to say and the type of stories I wanted to tell.
When you tell people that you love to write and that you want to be a writer, one of the first questions is… “Oh, what do you write!?” It is a genuine question, but it stumped me one too many times. My previous attempts at answering this question lead to ambiguous responses like “nothing” or “everything”. Response A: “Oh, unfortunately I’m not writing anything right now; I am still figuring it out”. Instantly AMATEUR was stamped across my forehead. Response B: “Oh let’s see… I love to write poetry, and short stories, I am working on a play, I also love screenplays, eventually I hope to write a book, and…”. CLUELESS AMATEUR gets stamped on my forehead. I am sure many other nascent writer’s can understand the struggle: when we are still discovering our voice, figuring out what we want to say, but are forced to vocalize to people what it is we are doing or hope to do. What we know is that we want to write, that the unspoken words eat at us, and that we have an itch to write which unlike in real life doesn’t go away when you ignore it. As for the continued plot and details of our future… they are unwritten, and we hope that they will reveal themselves as we edit the next draft or write our next chapter. My advice for the loving and curious friends and family of an emerging creative artist is to “wait for the book to come out” and “don’t skip ahead”. This is a period for me to not only discover what I want to say and what mediums I wish to use to share it, but also to develop the creative habits necessary to build and sustain a career as a professional writer and creative artist.
Please wait for the plot to reveal itself; everything will make more sense in the end. (At least I hope it will. *wink*)