Peter Hedges, author of the novel and screenplay "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," was in town recently. After he was done talking, there is a Q and A session with the audience. Someone asked Hedges for his advice on becoming a writer and I was intrigued with what he had to say.
Hedges thought for a bit and then said that he had three things that came to his mind and they were all from a teacher and mentor from an acting class. He said this person was no longer alive and was elderly when Hedges took the class, but that Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward were also people who learned about acting from this person.
1. You have enough now. Hedges explained that whatever we know, we know enough now to get going. If we don't grow and only know what we know now in 20 years, then it will not be enough. But we know enough now.
2. You have to know who you are. He told Hedges he was trying to be someone else too much and he needed to determine his strengths and be true to himself. That was when Hedges worked on the writing more than acting. He seems to have figured out the formula for books into movies. I am predicting that his latest book "The Heights" will be a movie.
3. Anything worth doing well will take you 20 years to learn. Hedges kept stressing the 20 years as a way to say that we just need to keep doing and learning in order to get good and to have doors open. If we work hard and learn our craft, people will notice. He said not to worry about the peripheral stuff and to focus on our craft–whatever that may be.
When I shared this advice with my husband, he agreed saying that he turned a corner at 15 years. It took him that long to learn the business. I know that I am a better teacher now than 20 years ago. Because of my life experience, I have so much more to share about what I have read, written, and what I have learned from meeting people during those 20 years.
Jann's Note: But it is not just the life experience that makes us wise. We have to process the experience so that we learn from it so that we can repeat what works and not repeat what is not working.