“When I feel the powerful visions/Their fire has made alive/I wish I had that instinct—/I wish I had that drive”
—“Mission” from Hold Your Fire (1987); lyrics by Neil Peart
Two things have grown considerably in the fifteen or so years that I’ve been a screenwriter: the volume of material in my portfolio, and, correspondingly, my confidence in my creative skills.
With so many screenplays under my belt (I’ve lost count at this point), as well as two novels I’m readying for publication next year, I can look over my body of work and see the influences from—the echoes of—artists that inspired me in my formative years. I was in high school when I realized that the same wondrous mind was responsible for both Star Wars and Indiana Jones—who the hell was blessed with that kind of imagination?!—and spent a considerable portion of my adolescence studying the screenplays and biographies of George Lucas (those resources, mind you, were not easily available online at that time). One of my early stories during that period, long before fan fiction found a thriving forum on the Internet, was titled “Indiana Jones and the River Styx.” When my novels are published, I’ll cite specific influences that helped shape them here on the blog.
One of the great sources of inspiration throughout my life has been the music of Rush. To my chagrin, I never had a knack for playing music—storytelling was my intended creative outlet—but I know I responded to the intellectual and philosophical content in Rush’s work. Only recently, in fact, did it consciously occur to me that the motif of the “restless young man” runs through virtually all of their albums (I plan to make a formal study of that in the coming months, the results of which will be published here, so start the countdown!), and I’m absolutely certain that recurring theme resonated with that boy from the Bronx I was all those years ago, desperate to make his mark on Hollywood. It resounds still: When I made the decision last year to forgo screenwriting in favor of pursuing novels, I found new meaning in one of Rush’s oldest songs, “Fly by Night.” Few artists in any discipline have continued to speak to me throughout the different stages of my life as Rush have.
Rush’s lead vocalist and bass player Geddy Lee has been making the media rounds of late—presumably to promote the band’s fortieth-anniversary tour this summer, though that often goes unmentioned. He recently appeared on the PBS series Speakeasy for an hourlong sit-down with author Michael Chabon. About halfway through the interview, the conversation turned to the role of inspiration in a young artist’s development; here’s what Lee had to say:
“What’s originality? Well, originality is when you have so many influences that you can’t tell which—you can’t tell them anymore; you can’t see them anymore—they’ve all melded. And as your confidence rises in your craft, your personality steps in front of those influences and that’s—that forms your voice.”
There’s an encouraging lesson there. We can’t will originality into the world like a genie from a bottle, but we can nurture the components needed to create that alchemical reaction: When the diversity of our interests meets the mastery of our craft, our unique voice emerges. Just ask Lucas, whose exposure to the Saturday-matinée serials, fascination with anthropology, and command of mythic structure unearthed one of our great pop-cultural treasures: Indiana Jones. Will yourself to be curious and practice craft—spend the time and apply methodology—and the magic will conjure itself.