My college years can be summarized in four steps which repeat themselves in an infinite loop. Step 1: I get incredibly upset about some career-related problem. Step 2: people tell me that everyone has those problems, and they go away with age. Step 3: I’m certain that these people are wrong, and my problems are absolutely fatal. Step 4: The people end up being right, and the problems go away.
Loyal readers will remember that I spent a lot of the past year agonizing about the fact that I didn’t have a voice as a screenwriter. I was skipping around between too many genres, and my work just didn’t feel distinct. I’ve always wanted to be the kind of writer whose work is a genre in and of itself, the Wes Andersons and Bong Joon-hos of the world. The kind of writer they could parody on Saturday Night Live and everyone would get it. But shockingly, at the age of 20, it wasn’t happening.
But I kept writing, and I finally wrote something good, which led to me writing more. I slowly began to develop an aesthetic unique to me, one that’s informed by my sense of humor and eclectic list of obsessions. I’m not saying I’m “there” yet, but I’ve finally reached a point where I feel like I know what a Christian Zilko script should feel like.
I can tell I’m getting there because of my efforts to write scripts outside of “my genre.” Once in a while, I feel the urge to mix things up. I try to write a drama, or something with a different sense of humor than my own. But if I stick with it long enough, it never ends up that way. No matter how hard I try to push myself outside of my voice, I always drift back to my own style after a few drafts.
As I get older, the ability to write well outside of my voice might be a skill that’s worth pursuing. But for now, I’m overjoyed at my inability to do so, because it suggests that I have a voice. Every time my signature themes and flourishes sneak back into my writing, I remind myself of a time when I was despondent that I didn’t have them. I’ve learned to love the drift, because it’s the most tangible example of my writing progress that I’ve encountered to date.