“There’s only memories that mean something. And memories that don’t.”
The words slipped from Sylvester Stallone’s lips and quickly found a new home in the depths of my iPhone Notes among titles to books never read and life quotes by Uber drivers. I silently applauded whatever This Is Us screenwriter penned it and also wondered if, perhaps, Stallone had crafted it himself.
Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky in three days.
My brother has told me this. The Internet confirms it. And This Is Us viewers were reminded of it during his cameo appearance a couple weeks ago.
The phenomenal feat provides us with the same hope experienced by witnesses of the Chuck Wepner vs. Muhammad Ali fight that Rocky is rumored to be based on. I’ve imagined a young Stallone in a New York City studio apartment, hopped up on coffee and inspiration, scribbling the words as fast as Wepner threw punches while the scenes effortlessly fell onto the paper.
However, it’s also mildly disheartening for the screenwriter who spends his entire thirties attempting to produce one screenplay worth reading. Or the aspiring novelist who grapples to put words on the page for days. Or the lifestyle blogger who stays up late each night for two weeks straight to post the perfect piece about periods or self-confidence or how to write.
As a result, a seed is planted in the struggling creative’s mind that perhaps they don’t have what it takes. I mean, maybe it’s just not meant to be if you can’t write as swiftly as Sly.
National Novel Writing Month
The smell of waffles and past regrets greeted me as I walked through the entrance of Denny’s in my workout clothes at 6:15pm on Thursday, November 1, 2015. I looked around, searching for the Santa Monica chapter of National Novel Writing Month. Dreams of cute hipster boys were quickly crushed as I spotted two booths of late to middle-aged patrons typing away on their PC’s.
My spandex shorts suddenly felt scandalous as I introduced myself to the group of science fiction enthusiasts who had all met at a comic book store once upon a time. I quickly reminded myself that the goal was not to be besties; it was simply to participate in the challenge of writing a 50,000 word manuscript between November 1 and November 30.
“Time for the speed test!” the Organizer declared. Whoever typed the most words in 5 minutes won a sticker.
“3, 2, 1, go!” All around me fingers rapidly fired against the keyboards, dictating dialogue between aliens as if it were a Mavis Beacon typing test. Meanwhile, my page read something like, “The door slowly opened, and it was apparent he was hungover too.”
I didn’t need to consult the word count tool to know that I did not win the sticker. And, needless to say, my manuscript remained unwritten on November 30th.
Why I’m Not Blogging for the Month of November
For the past three years my Google Drive has had a folder called “Book” filled with fragments of chapters, character descriptions and screenshotted emails and texts. Though I think about the story I want to tell every day – as it very much affects the person I’ve become – the contents have remained a mess of Google Docs for a few reasons.
1. I don’t know how to write a novel.
As a Marketing major, the College English course I took in high school was all that was required when I arrived to ASU so I haven’t formally studied literature for 12 years. Consequently, many questions cloud my thoughts as I write.
- How do I best divide this into chapters?
- Can I effectively flip-flop between past and present?
- Is it okay to start sentences with conjunctions? And do I even care if it’s not?
2. I haven’t made the time.
Each SOML blog post takes about two weeks from idea to Instagram post. Plus, I have a full-time job. And I spend the rest of my brain power helping my dad, mom and brother with their side projects. Because of that, the book is most often pushed to the bottom of priorities.
3. I’m scared the story isn’t enough.
There are no dragons or deaths or hikes to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Most of the book takes place in a small apartment dining room where two aspiring writers / former flings / good friends act as mutual muses. During our Sunday’s writing together, we both annotated our thoughts in hopes of curating a his/hers novel. However, now it’s just the hers.
It’s grounded in reality and is the backstory of the first year of The Story of My Life. I find it interesting – but will anyone else?
4. It’s uncomfortable.
Like a fight, there are certain parts of writing that feel effortless and euphoric. The sentences flow like basic boxing combinations: jab, cross, left-hook. However, most of it is a grind. Your muscles feel the strain of articulation while fending off self-sabotaging thoughts that constantly have the potential to knock you out if you let them.
Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just watch Hulu instead?
How Rocky Was Really Written
”I was watching the fight in a movie theater,” he said, ”and I said to myself, ‘Let’s talk about stifled ambition and broken dreams and people who sit on the curb looking at their dreams go down the drain.’ I thought about it for a month. That’s what I call my inspiration stage. Then I let it incubate for 10 months, the incubation stage. Then came the verification stage, when I wrote it in 3 1/2 days. I’d get up at 6 A.M. and write it by hand, with a Bic pen on lined notebook sheets of paper. Then my wife, Sasha, would type it. She kept saying, ‘You’ve gotta do it, you’ve gotta do it. Push it, Sly, go for broke.”’
– Sylvester Stallone in a New York Times article
I might not know the technical aspects of writing a novel, but I know what feels right. I may have made excuses that there isn’t enough time, but I’m carving out two hours a day for the rest of the month – meaning showers at the gym, making peace with my home office and taking a small break from SOML.
My story might not be ground-breaking, and it might never be a New York Times bestseller or box office hit. However, it’s one that I need to tell for myself – because there are simply memories that mean something and memories that don’t. Those memories that mean something could be in a dimly lit dining room or a parked car or mid-paella on a trip of a lifetime to Barcelona. Wherever they happened and whatever they are, they collectively tell the story of our lives.
The story may be uncomfortable to tell, but sometimes you’ve gotta go for broke.