On Writing and Being a Cliche

Most cliches are cliches for a reason: Carrying the germ of truth, they allow a person who is creeping into cliche to assess the originality and motivations behind whatever they’re doing. We all think we are unique and individual, but as we creep into cliche we can ask, “Is this what people like me do? If so, why?” Or if you’re writing a character and they say or do something utterly trite, identifying this allows the creator to reassess that character and her emotions. How do we make this more original?

All of that, of course, requires a certain amount of critical introspection. Still, finding yourself slipping into cliche allows you to place your individual decisions into a broader social framework.

I have this on the mind because I am — like everyone is, in one way or another — a massive cliche. As a 30 year old white guy, of course I’ve written a screenplay. I don’t expect to ever be a professional screenwriter. In fact, that seems like a pretty disappointing job, hustling to get hired to do a rewrite on Iron Man 8 or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Now With Even More Turtle Power. Yet I do it, writing almost every day.

Why, though? If I’m just doing the same thing that so many people exactly like me do, why keep going? Why not find something that makes me unique?

The short answer is that it makes me happy. That’s why I maintain this blog, even though I only have time to post a couple times a month — and nobody reads anyway.  In my late teens and early twenties, I thought I was going to write the Great American Novel and wrote constantly. (That’s another cliche, of course, though the difference for me is that I actually dropped out of college to pursue it.) Sometimes I still fantasize about one of my screenplays getting optioned and turned into a Major Motion Picture and earning me an Oscar. Even if that never happens — and it won’t — I will continue to write.

I write because I love to create. Writing was one of my first passions. It remains perhaps my most saleable skill, if not my only one. So when I want to “create,” I want to write.

My smaller screenwriting fantasy is more attainable. I have a short film I’ve written that I want to produce, raising money and producing it as professionally as possible. Maybe that will lead to some other project, or maybe it will be be a wonderful and fun one-off, or maybe it will be a total disaster, or maybe it will never happen. Regardless of the outcome, that fantasy is borne out of the same impulse to create.

It bears repeating. I write for myself. On this blog, I get to experiment with styles and sentence constructions and I get to make mistakes. In my journal, I get to beat myself up and, occasionally, gain insight into the life I’m leading. In my screenplays, I get to practice infusing every sentence and every word maximal importance — to say as much as possible in as little as possible. This has had a real impact on my work, even improving the quality of my emails. It’s good to be succinct and direct.

In writing all of this, I realize that my motivations are hardly unique. The cliche of the 30 year old who dabbled in screenwriting is a real one, and I fit that mold right now. But that’s okay by me — as long as I’m writing, I’m happy.

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