Lessons from My Dad

I think my dad is enjoying a literary renaissance. When I was growing up, the most he wrote was the occasional birthday card, but now, oh boy. I think it’s the internet age. Recently, an article he wrote with my uncle Mike about Let It Be ended up in PopMatters. Is this really my dad? This past couple of years he has published books, started a couple of websites, he even has a blog—if he weren’t writing about education issues, I would be afraid of the competition.

Obviously, I am very proud of him. I’ve been thinking about how his writing and his advice on writing has changed mine. I picked out a few things that he has taught me over the years and I thought I would share them this post.

1. Write Both Sides

The other weekend he visited and somehow got a hold of one of my scripts. Now, here is some background, I never really show any of my manuscripts to Dad because I am frightened of his criticism. Finished works are OK, but the manuscripts he’ll bloody to a pulp. In fact, before he arrived I hid all of my screenplays in a guitar bag. Of course, that didn’t stop him. Somehow he dug up a second draft of Da-ad under my bed and spent half the night reading it.

Over breakfast, he told me what he thought. The criticism was not pretty. Something especially stuck with me from the drubbing: why did I make the teachers at the school in Da-ad so awful? I had drawn from my experience and had simply written a caricature of a mean headmaster. In my dad’s words, “They have concerns too, especially if there are drugs on campus, it’s a huge liability. They could be in a lot of trouble if they knew and didn’t say anything.” I had never really thought about their points and their reasoning. Or if I did, I had not taken them seriously.

And I think that’s a helpful lesson; every character deserves perspective and a mind of his or her own. Otherwise, they are just caricatures. To be good, you have to write both sides.

2. Write Every Day

My dad is very insistent on this one. It’s simple advice: if you want to do anything well, you have to do it every day. This was much easier in college, when there were dozens of assignments each week, but here in the real world I spend admittedly less time in front of a word processing program. But it’s that discipline that makes a good writer. Through repetition, practice, and revision, I can become a better writer (hopefully). Like any other instrument, the writing brain needs practice.

3. Read Everything

I remember that my dad and I spent nearly every Saturday morning in the Montgomery County Public Library. While I wiled away the time, bored and listless in the young adult section, my dad would work on a personal crusade to find eighteen books on nineteen different subjects. There was no topic he didn’t want to read about, which made it so impossible to find him after an hour or two. He could be in biographies this week, science next, and then literature the day after. I could walk several circles around the stacks before I spied him poring over a couple dozen books in a corner.

If there is one lesson he imparted to me, it’s to be curious. The more eclectic my taste, the more I have to write about. Writing about a young twentysomething screenwriter gets boring after awhile, too—so why not branch out?

6 responses to “Lessons from My Dad

  1. Sneaky Dad! I would murder my father if he went digging for me work. 😉 That being said, you got some good advice from the old man.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Lessons from My Dad « When Pico Met Sepulveda (alternatewrites.wordpress.com) -- Topsy.com

  3. I love this. What a warm, tender, and thoughtful post. It seems like your dad taught you a lot. And I can tell you this: you’re putting those lessons to good use. 🙂

    (My parents taught me a lot too, maybe I should blog about that…)

  4. It’s sort of interesting how fathers influence us more than we know. I often think about mine and the kinds of things he would laugh at, to try and trigger my writing. Which is tricky– he kinda had a mean streak that I have sometimes control. 😛

    But cherish that advice! It’s good.

  5. @ Rebecca – Thanks again for the tweet!

    @ Kristan – Thanks for the kind words. OK, you’re due for a parents post next.

    @ Kevin – Thanks for sharing about your father. I sought my parents’ approval for everything growing up, so their feedback was so important. It didn’t feel official otherwise. It still doesn’t.

  6. Lauren Stokes

    Oh man, this post made me really excited for your future success for some reason.

    I think good history is also all about “writing both sides,” maybe more explicitly so than good screenwriting, but still, it’s an important lesson for everyone. That phrase can also be taken two ways–when I just saw the header I thought “Is Jon’s dad going to write criticism on both sides of the piece of paper?” Because that’s a good one too.

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