THE NEMESIS BESIDE YOU
I recently received an email from a college student named Sam whose situation, sadly, was one I hear repeatedly.
Sam’s greatest passion is to write screenplays. But no one close to him – not his parents, his family or his friends – takes his desire seriously. They laugh at him, discount his love of movies, and have actively coerced him into following a “safer” path by studying to become an accountant. The result has been severe depression, alcohol and drug addiction, and hospitalization.
But as with the hero of any good movie, the moment of deepest despair for Sam has become the opportunity for his greatest courage, transformation and success. In Sam’s words, “The darkest moment of my life turned into the best thing that ever happened to me.” Because after experiencing the pain of denying his passion and destiny, he checked into rehab, got sober and declared, “I’m going for it. And if I fail, who cares? At least I’ll be happy.”
But the biggest problem Sam now faces is his feeling of isolation. With no one to support his dream, where does he turn? In Sam’s words, “Where do I begin?”
[To read Sam’s entire letter SEE BELOW.]
I speak frequently about the Nemesis of a story, and how such a character isn’t necessarily a villain, but simply the one who creates the greatest obstacle to the hero achieving his desire. And Sam’s letter reminded me how frequently the nemesis who stands in the way of our goals and dreams is not an opponent or an enemy, but a person close to us. How many parents have steered their children away from a creative or artistic path? How many friends tease storytellers about their dreams of being writers or filmmakers? And how many spouses discount their partner’s writing by seeing it as a hobby, rather than as a career that’s as important and meaningful as their jobs are?
Coincidently, the same week I received Sam’s email, I was reading How the Light Gets In, the latest novel by my absolute favorite mystery writer, Louise Penny. In the novel, a character quotes Matthew 10:36, in which Jesus is sending his apostles out into the world to heal the sick and to proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” He tells them, “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Then Jesus says that he will turn “a man against his father and a daughter against her mother.”
Now I am no Biblical scholar, or even a Bible reader for that matter. But to me, what this passage means is this: you, as a writer and storyteller, have the power to heal people, to lead them — and yourself — to a better place with your art and your passion and your hard work. And when those who, through love, or fear, or envy, want to stop you from realizing your destiny, you must stand up to them, and show them that this is who you are, this is what you love, and this is what you are put on earth to offer to humanity – even if doing so means going against those who are closest to you. When you find the courage to do that, and to live in your essence, it will transform you and those you love.
So my answer to Sam, and to anyone wondering, “Where do I begin?” is this: whenever you feel isolated or afraid or unsupported, turn to those who are following the same path that you dream of taking. Join a writers’ group. Go to web sites and blogs and social media that unite people who share your passion for storytelling. Attend seminars and conferences for writers and storytellers and filmmakers. Read and watch interviews with those who have successfully done what you want to do.
And STOP talking about your dream to anyone who can’t support it. You don’t have to justify anything you do to those people, and there is no reason to subject yourself to more criticism and discouragement. Just do the work – quietly, steadfastly, secretly if you have to. Simply let those who would deter you from your dream experience the powerful person you are becoming. Let them see the result of living your passion. Let your family and loving friends discover that they needn’t be so afraid on your behalf. And let your unsupportive acquaintances realize that you have moved beyond them, and that they should simply drift away from you.
Find a Reflection. This is the character in a story who will help the hero achieve his goal, and will hold his feet to the fire and challenge him whenever he starts to move away or hide from his essence. Make this person your confidant, your mentor and your friend.
And finally, and always, keep writing. The longer you live in your essence, and the longer you continue to reveal yourself and your gift through your storytelling, the stronger you will become, and the easier it will be to ignore those who want anything but the best for you.
Because when it comes to finding courage, passion beats fear every time.
I'm 21 years old, and I am currently studying accounting at Penn State. For three years, I'd I tell family and friends about pursuing a career in accounting, and I'd get the same response: "That's a safe career move, Sam. Good for you for playing it smart." And every time I'd hear that goddamn response, I'd cringe. Is that what my life's come to? Just playing it smart?"
I've known I wanted to write movies ever since high school. My whole life, I've had a love for movies I can't really explain. I never had the balls to tell people I wanted to write movies because I was afraid they wouldn't take me seriously. So what did I do instead? Like a coward, I told everyone I was going to go to school for business, which I ultimately ended up doing. But deep down, I knew I was making a mistake.
So I went to college and tried to become someone I thought I could be, but all it did was turn my life upside down. I was a shell of myself, but as usual, I was too much of a coward to do anything about it.
So I drank…a lot. Alcohol kept me sane; it kept me from hating myself. Long story short, it led to me being hospitalized for a damaged liver in March of 2012.
But the darkest moment of my life turned into the best thing that ever happened to me. It put my life in perspective. It forced me to write.
I teamed up with a good friend who was the only one to ever take me seriously for wanting to write. We wrote a 200 page first draft of our screenplay. We hadn't a clue what we were doing, but it was the most rewarding experience of my life. I was finally happy because I was doing what I loved.
But then came my junior year. Back to reality. My parents viewed my screenwriting as a joke, especially my father. My friends laughed at us like we were children. "Screenwriting?" they would all say. "You got a better chance of having sex with Halle Berry." So what did I do? I listened. I went back to school and picked up right where I left off: miserable, with no hope for the future.
Then came the worst year of my life. I drank more than ever before. I became a frequent user of Adderall and cocaine, just to get through the days. Nine months later, I was checking myself into rehab, hopefully to get sober for good.
Funny how things work out, but sobriety has brought out the best in me. It's made me realize I have to go for things in life, not because I have to, but because I want to. I love screenwriting, and for the first time, I'm willing to tell people about it. I'm going for it, and if I fail, who cares? At least I'll be happy.
I write to you because I feel isolated. I finally found something that makes me happy, but all it does it portray me as a joke to my peers. You seemed so passionate and confident about screenwriting in your book Writing Screenplays That Sell, and I guess I just wish there were more people like you in my life to talk to. The problem is, I don't know where to begin.
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“There are five essential books that every person who wants to write screenplays should read. One of them is Writing Screenplays That Sell, and the other four don’t matter.” — Terry Rossio, Co-writer: Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2, 3 & 4; Shrek
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