Friday, November 10, 2023

Typing as the Nights Grow Longer By Josh Stallings

Q: The days are growing shorter: do the seasons affect your writing schedule, or ability/preferences, in other ways?

A: This question stumped me. I was born and raised in California where we have less seasons and more differing levels of good weather. Maybe that answer is trite and not entirely true. We have seasons they are just subtle, the quality of light shifts from gold to blue, temperatures shift from hot to warm to fresh. Maybe the reason the question stopped me goes deeper. 

Proof we do have seasons in California

More proof. Idyllwild today.

I have been lucky enough to spend my entire working life in creative fields. With the silly way my brain is wired it was that or become the world’s tallest sherpa. I am built to lug rocks up steep hills or solve creative problems, not much else.     

Lugging rocks pays surprisingly little so when a chance arrived to work in film editing I leapt. I was young and in love. My wife and our two sons depended on me to knock out the bills. As Henry Hill in Good Fellas said, “The guy’s gotta come up with the money every week, no matter what. Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.”

In trailer editor speak is sounds like this, “Been up all night cutting on a trailer for Fox, cool. Now Sony needs their’s cut by noon, so, fuck you, cut it.”

Getting back to seasons… Christmas and Chanukah, Hollywood slows down unless you’re on a big xmas picture, or you’re on a class project that is up for awards. Neither my wife nor I are Judeo-Christians so I always worked through the break. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy seasonal holidays. We decorate a tree and burn a yule log, though those are appropriated pagan rituals. We read Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. We kept the tradition of stockings from my childhood. But the over abundance and gluttony of the season made our kids nuts so we intentionally dialed it all way down to a four. Net result was I was always the editor working over the Holiday break. I actually loved when the town got quiet. So many fewer nervous clients to soothe. Just me, my assistant, some footage, and an editing system. Bliss.

Since I have been writing full time I find my days are a little more dictated by the seasons. I live in a small mountain town and when it snows I lose days to digging us out and making trails in the drifts for the pups. In Fall I lose days doing leaf and tree debris collecting and other fire abatement work. So ask me in another decade and I may have discovered seasonal changes affect my writing output. 

Back when I was still editing my favorite time to write was after ten PM. The family was asleep, the world was quiet. I loved the feeling that time stretched endlessly out before me. I’d often write until the sky went grey then sleep for a few hours and get up and go to my day job. I wrote the Moses McGuire trilogy and Young Americans at night and over lunch breaks. I recognize now that it left my wife picking up a lot of our family administrivia (her word.) I am trying to rectify that now by being more physically there to help keep our complicated life on the rails. 

I don’t remember the last time I wrote all night. But I do notice as the days become shorter I spend more time typing and less looking out the window.

What does this all mean? It reminds me how I was unrelenting with my work as a younger man. I had shit to prove, shit to say. I believed full heartedly in my vision no matter how misguided it might have been. I have learned to be kinder with my self, maybe too kind. 

“Hey, yeah you, writer guy with his fingers on the keyboard… You got a headache? Fuck you write a page. Your arms hurt from chopping wood? Fuck you write a page. You’re having an existential crisis over your work in progress? Fuck you write a page. And you dare take a day off? You owe. The vig is always running, so fuck you, write two pages.”

There is a season to plant ideas, a season to nurture them, a season to harvest them. That may or may not be true, but there sure as hell ain’t no season called “season to not write.” 

I am not suggesting any of this to other writers. I’m writing this for me to read. Shouting it into the night hoping when the echo comes back I’ll think it is a divine voice and take it seriously. 

Reading this back I see this could sound like I don’t love writing. It is the greatest job this guy could ever do. I love the act of creating worlds with words. It keeps me sane, or maybe saner would be more accurate. 

Last night I was talking to my long time friend Tad Williams. We got on the subject of jobs in the post apocalypse, “What do you think we’ll do?” I asked, “I mean we can’t all be Mad Max or Lord Humungus, and dude with a flame guitar seems like an odd gig.”

“I was just thinking about this,” Tad answered, “I’d do what I do now, keep making up stories. Humans have always needed art to put their lives into context.” 

I have to agree with Tad, I’m too old to learn how to play a flame guitar. So regardless of the season I’ll keep making shit up and telling it around what ever we’re using for  camp fires this year. 

May your long nights be productive and may your dreams nurture your creative soul.


Gabriel Valjan said...

Love the Paulie (Vario) from Goodfellas self-talk.

You missed "Struck by lightning, too bad, type."

Josh Stallings said...

G. 4AM, I’m struck by lightning, an idea that needs typing. So I hope from bed, make coffee and get to it. Pauline in my brain is always pushing for more words.

Susan C Shea said...

Do the people who produce movie trailers communicate with the directors or the editors? I have seen so many trailers that have neatly plucked the best lines/moments from a film and made them the centerpieces of trailers that convinced me to see the movies, only to realize at the end that the trailer was the best part! Was that you, my friend, messing with me?!

Josh Stallings said...

Susan, yes it was me, but in my defense if the best part of a film fits into a two minute piece the blame is on the film makers. I often worked with the studio, some times I worked directly with film makers. The first cut was mine, after that it was anyone’s game, Christopher Nolan gave us the exact footage he wanted used.