When I was a teenager, I met several adults who shaped and blessed my life. One of the most influential people was a freelance writer named Jerry McGuire. Jerry wrote scripts for industrial, educational, and documentary film, as well as full-length features and television scripts. He also had a book published on how to write treatments, proposals and scripts. Jerry filled in cash flow with magazine and newspaper articles. He held a degree in Geology, was an extremely creative individual and had changed careers to become a writer and adventurer of sorts.
I am sure he and Hemmingway would have had a lot in common. The day we met, my parents had recently moved to Indian Hills Colorado, west of Denver and I entered a talent contest at Evergreen Jr. High School. Jerry was a judge for the contest. I had written an original song, played guitar and sang the song. I didn’t win the contest, but he called the next day and explained he was writing copy for a radio commercial and want to know if I could write music for it. He would pay me for finished music. I was about 14 years old and excited beyond description to do this.
I set to work immediately on my part. We went to Denver a day or two later to record and produce the commercial. We had to wait for another project to finish up before we could get into the studio and much to my surprise Jerry took me to a little neighborhood bar two doors down where he had a two-martini lunch and six cigarettes. He generously shared four gin soaked olives, and that is all I had.
I came from a church going family, and although once in a while someone had a beer, I had never even seen a martini. Within minutes I was convinced that gin completely ruins the taste of a perfectly fine green olive. The other thing is that men in our family did not swear around women and children.
Jerry used expletives liberally, and dropped the “F-word” often. After his second martini, I received my first of several pep talks from him. To this day, thirty-seven years later, I remember it well.
“Listen kid, I have gone out on a limb hiring you for music instead of an established professional. My neck is on the F*-ing chopping block here. So you go in there and give us all you have. No nerves, no excuses. You pull this out of your heart and soul and your gut and I’m expecting the performance of a lifetime. Got it? Let’s go.”
That scared the daylights out of me and I was shaking. But somehow I managed to do what he asked, everyone was delighted and Jerry and I worked together on several projects over the years. He was a big scary guy, but I learned so much from him. He had a stepdaughter my age (Mindy) and we became best friends. There were many slumber parties at the McGuire house with teenage girls making pizza (no deliveries back then), drinking soda, laughing, shrieking and keeping the entire household up all night. Regardless of how little sleep we allowed them, Jerry was up early each day working in his home office in the basement. He was pounding away on an ancient manual typewriter, cigarette clinched between his teeth, and a cup of dark murky black coffee slightly to his left.
He must have held his breath as he wrote because the smoke curled gently and rose straight to the ceiling. I would wander into his office in my PJs with a blanket wrapped around me, as it was always cold downstairs. I helped myself to the guest chair and interrupted him.
“What are you writing?”
“Is it sold yet?”
“Geez, do you get up and write this much every day? You must have 50 books done.”
He stopped and looked at me over the top of a little pair of reading glasses and a stack of freshly typed papers. And here he shared one of the best lessons ever. “Most of it is crap.”
How could he say that about his own work? But he explained, “When you are a writer, it is what you do. Write, write, write and condition those creative muscles. But everything you write is not brilliant. You have to keep doing it and develop your skills. What ever you do with your life, you want to be great, *%$* great! That requires work and discipline. Hopefully some brilliant pieces will emerge. But most of it will be crap.”
Jerry died a couple of years ago. I am 51 and know now that what he said is true. I have written over a hundred songs. Three or four of them are great. The rest are mediocre. I have written three books, the first one was especially terrible, received 27 rejection letters and deserved every one. I will not rework it; it was crap.
My third book, Prayer: The Gate, is the best so far. It was published in January this year. It came from writing a blog site, http://www.prayerthegate.com/, where like Jerry, I got up early each day and worked to continually developed my skills. It is important that we are honest with ourselves and evaluate our work fairly. Just because we wrote something, doesn’t mean it is good.
For the past couple of years lots of people have used the expression “It’s All Good”.
It is simply not true and Jerry McGuire would have hated that.