Friday, August 31, 2012

Plainly writers are perfect, then

I had a slew of deliciously unexpected reactions to last week's piece about actors who claim to rewrite their scripts and alongside online comments, emails, tweets and Facebook updates there were conversations in pubs. Imagine that. Rockin' it old-school.

And as the evening would wear on and we'd all had maybe a little bit too much of the Pepsi Max nectar, I got asked about this one point. I had said in my blog that it was hard to describe what actors actually do. Let me be specific, I said this:
...what an actor does boils down to, mathematically reduces down to is that they read the script and they say the words. That does not convey a scintilla of the task, but it completely describes the job.
Okay, said my slurry friends, by the same mathematical reduction, all writers do is type. Give us a better description of writing or this round is on you.

I instantly replied – for 'instantly' read 'one week later' and for 'replied' read 'am writing a new blog' - with an answer.

This is what writers do. This is what writing is like. Follow.

First, please forget all about writing. Just for a moment.

Imagine instead that it's this morning. You're in the bathroom, listening to the radio as you get ready for your day. And someone cracks a gag on the Today programme. John Humphrys or some politician says something so funny that you choke on your toothpaste.

It really makes your day. One terrific joke and you leave for work happy. You're especially happy because tonight's the night you go for a few jars of lemonade and you can't wait to tell everybody this brilliant joke.

That evening, all those hours after the joke, it's still so funny to you that actually you struggle to get it out without laughing. But you manage it, you give it your all and you can even see yourself as a standup comic with the way you're delivering this joke so well.

Nothing.

Silence.

No reaction.

Eventually one of your friends goes: "Right. Yeah. Good one. Really... good one. So, anyone see The Bourne Legacy yet?"

You've heard that writing is rewriting. So rewrite the above, write it thisaway:

Version 2

It's this morning. You are in the bathroom, you are getting ready, you don't have the radio on. Instead, from out of nowhere, you think of this really funny joke.

It's so funny, you have to stop to wonder: was that something Milton Jones already said? Did someone tell you it?

But no, it's yours. All yours. You have thought of something so funny that you choked on your toothpaste, that your whole day is brighter and that it is going to bring the house down when you tell it to your hard-drinking lemonade crowd tonight.

Nothing.

Silence.

No reaction.

Eventually one of your friends goes: "Right. Yeah. Good one. Really... good one. You should be on radio."

One more rewrite. A shorter one.

Version 3

You're not in the bathroom.

You haven't thought of a joke.

You're not going out tonight.

You're not going to see your friends, they aren't going to be drinking.

Instead, you're going to a meeting where the other people are expecting you to have a terrific joke. They are waiting for it. It is the reason you are there. Not because you're funny, not because they just fancy a gag to brighten their day, but because they hired you to do it.

Nothing.

Silence.

No reaction.

That's what it's like being a writer. Or at least a writer with a mortgage. You can feel it now, can't you? And you can feel what it's like when they do laugh, when the stuff in your head does work out there in the real world.

It's the best job in the world. And I can tell you right now – stuff modesty – I am a great, great typist.


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