My All is Lost Moment
The year was 1980. I was living in New York and driving a taxicab. The short version is I finished Novel #3 and couldn’t sell it (much like Novels #1 and #2.)
I was thirty-seven years old. My entire life, from twenty-four on, had been devoted either to writing fiction, working so I could afford to write fiction, or running away from writing fiction. I thought now, “There’s no way I can put in another five years, saving money and then writing, to try to do Novel #4. I just don’t have it in me.”
That was not my only All Is Lost Moment up to that point, but it certainly was the biggest and the scariest. From GOVT CHEESE: A Memoir:
For four days I’m seriously teetering. My cat has stopped going outside. He’s looking at me funny. Clearly he’s thinking, “How am I gonna clean up the mess after Steve blows his brains out? Or get him down from the hook when he hangs himself ?”
That’s the All Is Lost Moment. Here’s the Epiphanal Moment:
Then at the fifth midnight I have a flash.
Why don’t I try writing screenplays?
I’ll move to LA. Why not? I’ve failed as a novelist. Why not go out there and fail as a screenwriter?
My friend Jennifer has worked as an assistant to a Hollywood agent. I phone her at one in the morning.
“You have to write a sample,” she says. “A screenplay on spec. No agent’s gonna take you on without something they can show around.”
Next morning I’m standing in the dark outside Barnes & Noble waiting for the doors to open.
I buy a $3.95 paperback, “How to Write a Screenplay.”
All Is Lost Moments happen in real life, and they follow the same principles as All Is Lost Moments in books and movies.
Sometimes the answer to an All Is Lost Moment is to give up a dream that can never come true, at least not for the present moment. Sometimes the answer is to embrace reality, even if—especially if—that reality breaks your heart.
It was no small thing for me to give up on the dream of writing a novel. That was my whole fantasy identity. And I certainly had no illusions that I was going to set the town on fire in Tinseltown. But to drop back to an aspiration that was (slightly) more realistic at least gave me hope. I got me down from that hook on the ceiling.
My epiphany was like Rocky’s, “If I can only go the distance … “
Rocky’s breakthrough self-assessment was, “I might not be able to fight or box or compete on the championship level. But goddamit, I can take punishment. That, I can control. All I have to do is keep getting to my feet when they ring the bell for the next round.”
In my case, as it turned out (not without irony), my moving to Hollywood proved to be the step—fifteen years later–that finally helped me get a novel published.
That was my All Is Lost Moment. And my epiphany.
P.S. Signed hardcovers of “GOVT CHEESE: A Memoir” are still available here.