Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Long, Grueling Writing Road and the 21 JUMP STREET Writer Who Gave Me Advice

Once upon a time, when I was a teenager and some good-looking guy named Johnny Depp starred in a TV series called 21 Jump Street, I met a writer of that series at my friend's house. The writer knew my friend's parents, and I remember him sitting on their couch and telling me, "The best writing advice I can give you is to never give up." I believe I responded, "I won't," for I knew deep in my gut that I wouldn't and couldn't.

Decades passed, hairstyles dramatically improved, a recession came and went and then returned with a vengeance, people started needing to take off their shoes and half their clothes just to make it through airport security. Yet one thing stayed the same: I remained a struggling writer.

Recently, I got back in touch with my high school friend and asked her, "Didn't your parents know a screenwriter who wrote for shows like 21 Jump Street? Do you remember his name? I'm not totally imagining that incident, am I?" She wrote back, saying, "I am glad you did not give up. His name is Gary Hall."

Mr. Gary Hall: Thank you, thank you, thank you for planting that "never give up" advice inside my head. Since that day I met you, I've written countless manuscripts geared toward adult audiences, won several writing awards, received dozens and dozens of rejections, signed with two different agents, married my college sweetheart, given birth to two remarkable children, and pulled at my hair, wondering why, why my books are considered too risky and too unmarketable for publishers. Several times I considered giving up. I didn't understand why my brain was telling me to write when no one wanted to publish my words.

But...I also flew to a Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators conference in January 2010. Over dinner, I told my agent an idea for a young adult novel involving a teenage girl and the dark, bizarre world of early-twentieth-century spiritualism. I saw the excitement in my agent's eyes and dove back into the new manuscript as soon as I returned home. I shared the book with critique partners, revised, showed the book to my agent, revised again, and just this past fall sold that book to Amulet Books/Abrams. I did not give up. As recently as this past September, I cried on the phone while telling one of my best friends I felt like I was wasting my life by chasing this agonizing dream, but I still kept going.

Richard Bach wrote, "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." We writers hear quotes like that all the time and absorb the words of wisdom into our souls, but sometimes we want to shout out, "Wait a minute. I'm not giving up, but I'm still not getting anywhere!" You know what? The advice is true. I'm proof that determination, time, blood, sweat, tears, and the pure, incomparable joy of spinning tales can indeed eventually lead to a deal with an amazing publishing company.

In celebration of Gary Hall and his advice that never left my brain, I'm sharing the 21 Jump Street opening credits below. Thank you again, Mr. Hall! To the other struggling writers out there: if writing feels as essential as breathing, keep plugging away.

Oh, and enjoy the Johnny Depp clips. I wonder whatever happened to that kid. ;)


Ashley Elston said...

Great story! So glad you hung in there!

Cat Winters said...

Thanks, Ashley! I'm really happy I hung in there, too.

Ara Burklund said...

Wow! That's so cool, Cathy! Seriously great advice, too. The type of wisdom that comes from experience.

Anonymous said...

love this and it's so true - you really can never give up. it's my favorite advice to give and to take. love the 21 Jump Street part! i was too young when i watched to remember much about it, but i DO remember thinking it was pretty much the coolest show that would ever be on tv. :)

Cat Winters said...

Ara: I was thrilled to finally figure out the writer's name after all these years. It's definitely the best advice.

Brandy: I don't remember a whole lot about the show myself. I started watching it after I met that screenwriter so I could see his episodes, and then in college my friends and I had 21 Jump Street/Alien Nation viewing parties every Monday. That was toward the end of the show's existence, when Richard Grieco started showing up more.