This Side of Paradise: Getting to The Other Side

Sometimes the hardest thing to do in this industry is simply to keep going.  Rejection piles up and the years pass and you don’t know what to do next.  The temptation to quit is almost irresistible just to make the suffering stop.  It’s easier to never have a dream than to dream and never realize it.

Yesterday, I got sucked into the vortex of self-pity yet again.  I was listening to an interview with Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars – one of my favorite shows – and the story of how he came to ‘make it’ depressed me because it sounded so effortless.  I may get some of the details wrong, but essentially as I recall, he wrote a book, sent it to a TV writer to ask if they needed writers, he was hired to rewrite a romantic comedy that took place in a single location with six people for $1000 and then was taken to New York with this as a sample to pitch another romcom and then went to write for Dawson’s Creek.  F#%@!  Sorry, but it’s sounds ridiculously easy.  Is it meant to be that easy or are there pieces of his story missing?  Did he struggle at all?

I wallowed in misery for about fifteen minutes then went to Starbucks to chill out.  I needed a change of scenery and an indulgent decaf soy latte.  I curled up in a pleather chair by the window watching the storm clouds roll in while reading my book: Zelda.  It’s a biography on Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of my favorite writers.  I find her character fascinating, as did everyone who encountered her judging from the book, but I also felt bad for her.  She was obviously imbalanced and narcissistic.  Everything revolved around her and her desire to be wonderful.  She played men like violins and revelled in sparking controversy.  She was incredibly talented at dazzling people, attracting attention and simply being herself, but that’s about it. The more I read, the more I think she was perhaps a more gifted writer than her husband because he often stole from her letters, however she never aspired to do anything or be anything other than herself.  There was a line in the book that made me sad:

Although Zelda told Scott that it would break her heart to try to do something and find out that she could not, and that faced with that choice she would rather not try, she was nevertheless aware that Scott had drawn on some of her own writing in This Side of Paradise.

I think it’s terribly sad to not do something because you’re afraid of not being good at it.  The only way to be great at something is to keep doing it.  Scott himself was suffering at this time from fear and self-doubt.  He was in the process of writing This Side of Paradise, but he anxious and frantic over his relationship with Zelda.  He wasn’t succeeding and it frustrated him so much that he tried to force Zelda to marry him, which didn’t work.  He returned to New York, quit his job and went on a 3-week bender.  When he came out of it, he started rewriting his novel.  Two months later it was done.  He sent it to a publisher and two weeks later it was accepted.  He also proposed to Zelda again and this time too she accepted.

Even the greatest writers in the world suffer bouts of self-doubt and misery, but to think that within 10 weeks, he went from miserable, self-pitying, frustrated alcoholic to the soon-to-be hottest writer in the world, is pretty incredible.  He changed his focus from what he’s not getting and how he’s suffering to giving everything he’s got to finish his novel because, in his words, it was “my ace in the hole.”  He knew it was going to be great and he knew he had it in him to finish that book.  He didn’t start writing it and finish it in 8 weeks, he rewrote it and he spent practically every waking moment working on it until it was done.

Who would you rather be?  Someone too afraid to try something you might not be any good at or the one who pulls himself out of the vortex and finishes his masterpiece?  Good choice.

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