Though I secretly always feel like I’m just getting started, I’m sometimes asked for advice by a young writer just beginning their creative journey. My answer is always the same: Write a letter to a friend. When I’m stuck, it’s my north star. Make it personal. The more personal the better. The screenplay for “Almost Famous” began as a story of a rock and roll publicist in the early ’70s. It was called “Ricky Fedora.” I wrote it with David Bowie in mind. I’d written about him as a journalist, seen him on Broadway in “The Elephant Man” and also loved his early turn in “Basquiat.” There was a young journalist named William Miller in a couple scenes. He was based on me, but I wanted to cut the part. It was too personal.
Something about the screenplay didn’t work. Actually it wasn’t something. It was everything. It felt like someone writing about the music world of the ’70s with their nose pressed against the window. They weren’t inside it, they were outside yearning to get in. I kept doing draft after draft, and in each one, the young journalist character got bigger. So did the truths about my own family.