On Ethan Hawke (and writing)
by Blake Kimzey
3 months ago
Scrolling through Netflix last week I saw one of my favorite movies from the 80s was available to stream. I made some popcorn, called my kids into the living room, and said we're watching EXPLORERS.
I hadn't watched the movie in 30 years or so. Sitting there with my kids, the four of us making sure the couch didn't float away, it was hard not to look for the message: follow your dreams and create something new if that is what it takes.
The movie follows three young kids who manage to create a working spacecraft. They take off into outer space and encounter some very odd extraterrestrial life before returning home. But the movie isn't so much about making it to outer space as much as it is with simply watching the boys try and make the spacecraft.
As a writer, I can relate to this. So much of the process is tinkering before launch.
My kids loved the movie. So did I. And then I found myself on an Ethan Hawke Google-binge.
I re-watched a few of his movies and when I opened The New Yorker the next day I found a profile of Hawke that discusses his varied career and adaptation of James McBride’s 2013 National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird.
In addition to acting and directing, Hawke has written three novels and has another on the way. He doesn't seem to think much about failure. He just relentlessly makes stuff and has for the last 30+ years.
YOU ARE ENOUGH. TRUST YOUR BEATING HEART
I was inspired by Hawke as I read The New Yorker article. I've always enjoyed his work, especially the "Before Sunrise" trilogy he made with Richard Linklater and Julie Delpy. I'd like to share this passage from the article with you because it touched a nerve:
Linklater’s storytelling method in “Before Sunrise” put new demands on Hawke’s acting. At the beginning of the first shoot, Linklater interrupted a scene. “You seemed like you were really moved by what you said,” he told Hawke. “Why?” Hawke said he’d been doing his “classic Elia Kazan thinking about acting” and using a private secret to fuel the scene. Linklater responded, “It’s good acting, but, in this movie, if I see you acting then I’m going to notice there’s no plot. And if I notice there’s no plot I’m going to get bored. We have to do something different. It’s a Zen exercise in letting real life be present. What I want is not your artificial secret. I want your secret.” To Hawke, this was a crucial lesson: “You are enough. Trust your beating heart.”
I love what Linklater says and how Hawke has internalized it, applied it to his work. I know I have been guilty in my own writing of trying to use some artificial secret to get at the beating heart of the story.
One of my mentors called this kind of writing Deadly Competent. Too much shine, not enough heart.
More often than not, this is not good enough to move people with your work or even sustain you during its creation. I realized I needed to put more of myself into my work, and this passage reminded me of that truth yet again, that I need to make new demands of myself and on my writing.
THERE IS NO PATH TILL YOU WALK IT
And so I went online and found a TED Talk Hawke recorded during the pandemic. His main idea is to give yourself permission to be creative, something he has done over and over again.
Reflecting on moments that shaped his life, Hawke examines how courageous expression promotes healing and connection with one another -- and invites you to discover your own unabashed creativity.
"There is no path till you walk it," he says.
Watch the nine minute talk below if you like, read the article in The New Yorker, and maybe even go back and watch EXPLORERS. There is something inspiring about a life spent making things. If you make enough things over time the quality will vary, but the experience gathers into something meaningful along the way.
It takes a lot of courage to make art of any kind. I know I'm trying to write my way out of the wilderness at a pace that doesn't often feel satisfying enough, but the journey is as important as the destination.
And the joy of creating something new is its own reward.
If you feel like you're looking for connection, I can honestly say we are here for you, wishing you the best. Get in touch if you have a question or sign up for an online class this year. Your most important work is still in front of you.
Blake Kimzey is Founder & Executive Director of WritingWorkshops.com. He won the Black River Chapbook Competition for his collection of short tales, Families Among Us. Blake's chapbook, an indie bestseller, was blurbed by Roxane Gay, Ramona Ausubel, and Matt Bell, and his work has been adapted for broadcast on NPR and published by Tin House, McSweeney's, Short Fiction, Longform, VICE, and over 40 other literary journals. He has an MFA from UC-Irvine and received a generous emerging writer grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation.