On Sundays when I was a kid, my father was home all day. His funniest friends were over. They’d sit around the outside table and make up stories, shouting, throwing pencils, tearing up pages like kids playing games.
“I got an idea,” someone would laugh.
“We heard it last week!” There’d be a fake punch.
They’d eat deli sandwiches, laugh more.
“Here’s a great character.” The mood changed as someone came up with a real villain. I’d sit on my father’s lap. They wrote down what they said and took turns reading their words back to each other, then starting again until the sun began to set and the fog rolled in.
This was my father’s work: writing stories with other men and women. I decided that was the work I’d do, too.
I learned even more when I started working with tough NYC agencies, living with my kids, writing journalism alone at night to pay the rent, and then trying to set up a gripping chapter by chapter outline for the next book.
But watching and being included in my father’s world did show me the tough times, too. I knew he’d been up all night. I knew by watching his walk from the station wagon across the driveway under the olive tree that the studio heads had turned down a story he loved. I knew from the fall of his shoulders when he had to rewrite a script they’d said was “fine!” I learned early that you didn’t just “write it out and say ‘done!’” From the first thank you note of mine which my father edited—“Never use the same word twice in one note!”—I knew about rewrites.
When I look around the vigorous circle of the writers I work with now in my curious West LA loft, I feel close to my father, to his working with other writers, encouraging them, helping them find adventure, not despair, in the search for the conflict. We joust each other into finding the kick of the rocket as we dig our way down to the heart of plot.
The notion of “making a living” as a writer is harder now, but the newer fresh resources we have online and with writers’ workshops, the restoration of telling stories in series, reminds many of us that once again, it all begins with story.