On Writing · Publishing

To Write or Not to Write – That is the question


I was having a wonderful conversation this afternoon with a friend of mine who writes screenplays. He’s written several, two of which he directed and has made into films. He pitched me two new screenplay ideas he had. Both of them were great. Different, but great.

He was quite…concerned about his next step. Which script should he write next? Should he even write either one at all? What’s the point if he’s not going to film them eventually?

Earlier in the day, he read someone else’s finished screenplay. He does that too – reads other screenplays and gives his opinions on them. He moaned and groaned as he read this one – and not in a good way. It was painful reading.

I listened attentively to his pitches and his seemingly troublesome conclusion: to write or not to write. Especially with no future comittment to filming.

So I asked him which one his heart wanted to write. He kind of looked at me funny. In my head I wondered – is that a girly question?! It wasn’t. It was a writer question. Although he gave me a funny look, he answered. He answered me with a question: what does that matter? I laughed out loud. Which got me another funny look. I said, what do you mean? Don’t you always write from your heart? He said he writes based on shootability. Okay. That’s one way to write. I told him he didn’t answer my question, so I asked it again. Which one does his heart want to write? He asked me which one I liked better. I told him. Then he said, well, that one’s way harder to write. I’ll have to be witty and very, very clever. Not just screenplay writing clever, but like, clever as a writer. And that’s hard. I laughed again. That story’s the obvious choice, then, I told him. Are you telling me that you don’t write things because they’re hard? Have you ever written something just because you loved the story and you wanted to tell it? The funny look was back. He said that if he doesn’t write a more formulaic type of script then he’s up against writing that film that’s new and innovative. He wasn’t sure if he was ready and/or wanted to do that. I shook my head in understanding. I have faith that he is more than capable of writing this type of screenplay. Witty, clever and fantastic.

We talked a bit more. Then the phone rang. He had to leave. I had to work. The conversation fizzed out but I’ll know we’ll get back to it. I hope he went home and started writing. Something.

Here’s the truth:

Every writer wants to write that epic, Pulitzer-prize, Governor General, -insert huge writing award here-, winning novel. Like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Angelou and Morrison, Bronte and Rowlings, King and Green (John). The Great American/Canadian Novel. The bestseller. Deep down in the place where the truth lives, whether we say it out loud or not, every writer finishes reading a book they love and thinks to herself: ‘Cuss, I wish I wrote this book’ or ‘This is how I want readers to feel when they finish reading my book’. Or something along the lines of wanting large-scale readers who read their words and love them. Not like them, but love them. Even if this feeling is fleeting – we all have felt it or feel it.

I am no exception to this truth. In fact, I think about it all the time. When I sit down to write, I think to myself: Is this it? Is this gonna be the book or the line or the chapter that makes this book AMAZING?

How does a writer write THIS book? I mean, can you feel it in your fingertips as you’re typing? Can you feel it in your bones as you’re writing your outline? Can you know on any level of your being that THIS IS THE BOOK? Can the writer ever really know?

Does writing from your heart and choosing the more difficult story to tell, have anything to do with it? If you write with the intention of creating THE BESTSELLER or THE BLOCKBUSTER – does it make a difference in terms of creative output?


The answer: I don’t know. But I think it’s a damn good question to ask. It’s a damn good conversation to have.

And I wonder if you don’t have that dream which is where THE grand idea(s) come from, can you ever really get there?

I mean, does having an EPIC dream (ex. writing a love story young adult novel that will change the face of love stories such that it wins the Pulitzer and Tom Cruise decides to buy it and ask you write the screenplay adaptation that he wants to star in which consequently wins an Oscar for Best Screenplay) as the foundation of where your story is born and where it can potentially go make a difference in the creative process and output? Is this what ‘manifesting’ is?

If the truth is that every artist somewhere deep inside wants to be GREAT then how do we actually be it?

When Mitch Albom sat down to write ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’, did he have any idea what he was writing? How it would affect the world? I’ll have to ask him.

I was watching a Ted Talks with Elizabeth Gilbert (author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’), and she was talking about how she was dealing with the success of her book (‘Eat, Pray, Love). She said she felt pressure to write another book as amazing, if not more. I remember listening to her and thinking, well, no, silly, you just keep writing. From the same place you wrote ‘Eat, Pray,Love’ (and by PLACE, I mean, her heart, her mind, her soul, her fear, etc.). But now that I think more about it – her concern seems pretty darn reasonable. After the success of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, how did Mitch feel when starting to write ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’? I’ll have to ask him this too.

How does one write a great ‘anything’? Where does it come from? Can you tell when you’re writing it? Does wanting to write it make a difference – as opposed to writing without the intention of it being great?

What do you think?

Stay tuned for next week’s Tuesday’s Truths – another book giveaway is coming!