Monday, June 7, 2010
Talent's Not Enough by Karin Gillespie
Acting was my first love before writing. When I was a child I saw an audition notice in the paper: “Wanted actors to try out for Alice in Wonderland. Must be twelve and over.”
I begged my mother to take me. She said, “But you’re only eight.”
I said, “Who cares? I want to be Alice. I was born to play her.” Plus I had the requisite long, blond hair.
My mother reluctantly took me, figuring I might get a part as a hedge hog or a playing card, but no, at the end of the day, I got the part. I was Alice.
From then on I kicked butt at auditions, snagging every part I tried out for. In college, I landed the part of Girl in "Hot L Baltimore." My director wasn’t happy with my performance. Not nuanced enough, he said. At first I was defensive. After all, I got every role I’d ever tried out for. What did he know?
But the more I thought about it, the more I knew he was right. I’d been relying solely on talent, but talent can along take an actor so far.
After Hot L Baltimore, I read dozens of books on acting. I read plays aloud constantly, trying hard not to go for the obvious interpretation of a character. All if helped me to become a much better actor. I tried out for another play with the same director and when he cast me he praised my growth. It was an extremely proud moment for me. I felt like I had the right to call myself an actor.
I tell this story because something very similar happened to me in my writing career. When I became a mother and could no longer take time for community theater, I focused on writing. I had some very early successes: cover stories in my local alternative newspaper and a positions as a freelance theater reviewer and editor of a parenting magazine.
When I tried my hand at novel writing, I wrote one practice novel that I stuck under my be to live with the dust bunnies, but my second novel was published. I’ve heard that’s unusual—that most people write several novels before getting a contract.
My first novel also ended up being a lead title, (also unusual) and it was optioned for film. My publishing company took out full-page ads in several publications and sent me on an eight-city book tour. The novel was part of a series, and the support continued. The whole time I felt a little bit like an imposter.
When I was done writing the series, I wrote a stand alone novel, It was incredibly difficult to write and took two years and countless revisions to finish. Then I wrote another untitled novel that I toyed with for three years. I kept working on it, but, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t ever get it right. I didn’t know what to do. Why was writing getting harder instead of easier?
Before I put another word on paper, I decided it was time to go back and get some schooling. I enrolled in an MFA program, which has been invaluable but I also started to devour books on fiction writing, especially on structure and character motivations. I found John Truby’s Anatomy of a Story to be a lifesaver as well as The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler. I also think Alexandra Sokoloff’s blog is amazing.
Now I know exactly what’s wrong with my untitled, unsold novel and one day I’ll go back and fix it. In the mean time,armed with all sorts of new knowledge, I wrote another novel, which I hope will be my next published work. Although the writing was difficult (that’ll never change) at last, I finally feel like I know what I’m doing. I also fell in love with writing all over again. Even if I never publish another book, I can unequivocally and proudly say: I am a writer.
If you're a writer, what happened to make you feel validated? Did you ever have a writing setback that ended up being a blessing in disguise?