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Dean Orion Headshot

Do You Have the Writer Gene?

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About 20 years ago I had a critical decision to make in my life. I had moved out to Los Angeles to pursue both screenwriting and acting, had studied at some prestigious schools, and had begun to pick up bits of work on both fronts. The problem was, I wasn't making enough progress in either career. And though I didn't have to look far to see other "writer-actor hyphenates" who somehow effortlessly wore both hats, I knew that for me it had to be one or the other.

So I asked myself a simple question: What is it I really want to do with my life the moment I wake up in the morning? How do I want to spend the precious hours I've been given on this wonderful planet? Because when you get down to it, that's all life really is, isn't it? Just a series of daily experiences that we choose to have -- experiences that, when it's all said and done, ultimately stitch together into a perfect three-act structure and tell the story of who we are.

Put in those terms, the answer became crystal clear. When I wake up in the morning, what I want to do is write. Or perhaps more accurately, what I need to do is write. Acting was fun, but writing is in my DNA. In other words, for better or worse, I was born with the writer gene.

It was at that moment that I truly fell in love with the process of creative writing. I realized that writing, like life, is nothing more than waking up each day, remaining focused on the task at hand, and trusting that the result will take care of itself. It's about paying attention to what works and what doesn't, learning from your mistakes, having patience with yourself, and above all, taking pride and pleasure in how you choose to spend the time. I also came to realize that process is the key to surviving, psychologically, in a very difficult business. Process is not only a way of working; it's a life-preserver that gets you through the turbulent waters, both personally and professionally.

Now, you'd think that after years of practicing this zen-like approach to the craft, I would have become some kind of "writer-buddha," sitting at my keyboard in a state of meditative bliss. But just nine months ago, I once again found myself questioning my path. Has all this time really been well spent, I thought, or has my writer gene finally betrayed me? Is my voice actually being heard, or is it more like that proverbial tree falling in the forest?

The irony of all this navel gazing, of course, was that I knew damn well I could have never done it any other way -- which eventually got me thinking about other writers who doubtlessly share these thoughts and feelings. So, with much trepidation, I decided to write a book about it. If just one other writer would benefit from what I had to say, I reasoned, the effort would be worth it. And who knows, maybe I could even help myself a little bit along the way. It would be "altruism by way of exorcism."

The book I eventually wrote, Live To Write Another Day, A Survival Guide for Screenwriters and Creative Storytellers, is as much a reflection on my own personal journey as it is a practical handbook. But most importantly, it's the beginning of a conversation I hope to continue to have with my fellow writers, a conversation that's focused not on box office or book sales, but on the actual work, the process of writing.

Like a golf swing or a pitcher's motion, the writing process is something that you have to make as repeatable as possible. That's not to say it's mechanical or lacking in artistry. Rather, it's a standard operating procedure of sorts, a way of identifying problems and overcoming obstacles, a recipe that each individual writer must develop and over time make uniquely their own. In the book, I use my own experiences as examples of how to accomplish this, with the humble hope that it will both enlighten and even inspire others, from novices to seasoned pros alike.

Being a writer means walking through life with dozens of untold stories constantly bouncing around in your head -- a series of puzzles, each one more vexing than the last.

That's why if you're like me and you have the writer gene, there's nothing more important than your process. Your best work will only come when that process unfolds naturally, and you give yourself permission to fully engage in it one patient step at a time... every day... from the moment you wake up in the morning.