When living in New York City, I met many writers. Some came into my MFA program, some I already knew, and some I just happened to meet. Advice of theirs sticks to me, all of it, but there are certain bits that haunt me. Two of these persistent thoughts came when I did not expect them. Through friends and friends of friends, I ended up going out to breakfast with a screenwriter. He looked young, was no more than thirty, but seemed to be plagued with none of my poverty. There was money in his wallet. His manner was that of someone who had accomplished life goals. There was easy assurance about his speech. Somehow this young man was far ahead of where I was. That did not bother me so much as make me want to know what secrets he had. His way was to come off as one who just knows that answer. I wanted that answer. So as I sipped a shot glass sized serving of fresh squeezed orange juice, I talked to him about my process and got the first bit of commentary. “Phony writers talk about page counts.” This struck me right away as I frequently did just that. To friends I said things like, “I wrote thirty pages yesterday” or “that was the longest novel I’ve written” and I thought nothing of these statements. I think the screenwriter’s point is that it doesn’t matter how much I’m writing as it does what I am writing, what I am completing, and to what end I am using it. If I am just writing piles of material with no real point to the writing it can be considered therapeutic but it cannot be considered professional. The screenwriter said this with the assurance of someone who had gotten the same advice from someone else a long time before, and that that advice had served him well. I hadn’t ordered as expensive breakfast as he had. I was getting an egg on a roll. I watched him eat less from more of what I wanted, Eggs Florentine, and wanted to be him more than ever. He lived in my neighborhood at the time, Little Italy, one that was the most expensive of any neighborhood in New York City. Unlike me, his parents weren’t paying his rent. Writing was. After we walked down and around from a diner in the East Village, I never saw this friend of a friend again, close as I lived to him. The density hid him from me even as he was proximate. The last words he said before goodbye stay with me as well. I had been talking to him about all the ideas I was putting in my thesis, a novel called “Dry World”, and he stopped me short to tell me he had to go west down Prince Street where I had to turn downtown on Elizabeth.  So, parting, he shot: “Tell stories. Any other writing is just jerking off.” It was a filmic bit to say. His job as a screenwriter was to tell stories, and in that, my job was like his. I had always been told to think of my work as scenes in a film. A series of them. Even life can feel like a movie. As I watched him walk away from the still rising sun, down the valley of a long city street, I thought about all that I had yet to write.

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4 Responses to “Writer’s Brock – “…just jerking off…””

  1. Thanks for this piece. You told a story; so it seems you did take his words to heart.

    I have always wrestled with the story aspect. Everything I write comes from my experiences and filtered through my thoughts and feelings about them. I think if I would just decide that I was a memoirist or creative nonfiction writer, I would get along much better. I write what I see, even though I think I see things in an opaque way.

    Thanks again for this. Always enjoy the writing on this site.

    Michael

  2. Yes, a story, and well-told, Dylan. Thanks.

  3. Muskegon Critic says:

    Great story.

    Though that guy kinda sounds like an asshole.

    It’s a bit inspiring in that now I want to write a story where I discover that that guy had written nothing but angstful goth poetry on college ruled paper, and that he blew every cent he had on that lunch just so one person would look up to him. Also…I’d win over his girlfriend…and his dog…and I’d learn he’d stolen all his best goth poetry from me.

    Yeah. And it would end with him begging me to call him by his first name and I’d just sit there…denying him that.

    Awesome.

  4. People talk about “story” as if it’s something that can be avoided. Each word is a story. We are “storying” creatures. The question is how much pressure do we want to put on the language to tell a story that hums at the same frequency as our bodies–that might be something closer to the “whole” story. Anyway, jerking off is underrated, too. It is where we meet our secret selves, our hidden desires and natures.

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