I want to write about writing. I don’t want to tell you how to write a query letter or a TV show bible or the script that will get sold vs. the one that won’t. The fact is there are thousands of people writing about these things and we have the right things to say and if you’re in the right place at the right time and you have talent and some luck and a great deal of determination you will become a working writer. There is no doubt in my mind that it is so.
I’m interested in why people write. Many people talk on and on about writing and never do it. Some people are good at one kind of writing and not another. Some write books but cannot write screenplays. Some can write television but not features and vice versa. Poets! Yes, there are still poets and essayists and philosophers and bloggers.
There is a saying in 12 Step programs called “Restraint of Pen and Tongue” This is when you write that long email to your ex-boyfriend and never send it or instead of going off on someone who’s upset you, you shut your mouth and go to a meeting, or a movie or a walk with the dog. Restraint. I recommend it HIGHLY. Not all writing, not all communication is for others, it is always for ourselves. If you are doing something only for others, it will show; it will not be genuine and it will falter. Some write purely for cathartic reasons. These are the pieces that should be kept private or shared with a safe person. They are for growth forward, to leave the past behind, to move on. To help ourselves.
So when people say they want to write, why don’t they? Take a course and learn a format. Read books about writing, put pen to paper, turn on the computer, whatever it takes? What are you afraid of? Can someone be taught to write? Can someone be taught to act? Don’t you think Meryl Streep would still be the most amazing three-time Oscar winner she is even if she hadn’t gone to Yale Drama School? Do you think Marilyn Monroe became a better actress because she worked with Lee Strasberg? Meryl needed an outlet, opportunities to act; Marilyn needed a father figure, a crutch, someone who told her she was doing it right, someone who made her feel she could be taken seriously.
I cannot write fiction. I have tried in the past and failed; horribly, miserably. I remember when I was in New York in college and I met someone who was a reader and I wrote a terrible gangster script and bless her she read it and gave me some positive feedback. Now as a reader, I wouldn’t have gotten past page 2. I have no talent for fiction. Through my career as an agent and manager, a producer who works with writers on their scripts, a Film major with a minor in English Literature, I was able to learn about story and how it works and when it doesn’t so I am inherently qualified to critique your fiction but that’s where the buck stops.
What I can do and do well is write essays, journalism pieces, interviews, articles, blogs pieces – non-fiction. I am an amazing letter writer. I know how to say what needs to be said in a piece for a newspaper. I can express my feelings honestly and effectively so you can read my blog or a personal letter. I write in a blog because I sometimes feel the need to be heard. I never regret what I write; it’s part of me. I cannot tailor my blog to suit a certain standard unless I only write in regards to my profession and even then, some will disagree with my experience and perception of how things work.
I know a woman who should write, two in fact. Really talented women who have been told “you should write” over and over. I don’t know why they don’t. They raise kids, they have their jobs, they’re afraid of failing at something that would mean so much to them to succeed at. Fear.
I know some people who shouldn’t write yet they have no fear and they keep doing it. The ones who have no understanding of structure or format need to take things more seriously and educate themselves but those who do and yet they write and there is only a mediocrity of talent – they have a passion. I can tell them this doesn’t work but they should continue to write. Some people have one story that needs to be told, others have many. Some people’s imagination runs so wild they can find a story in anything and so they keep on with the stories, a series of stories, “Harry Potter”, “Bridget Jones” – a character that takes hold of the collective imagination of the world and of childhood for the fear of being alone but laughing all the while.
Ideas for movies and television come from everywhere. Most come from things we’ve already seen but they’re in our subconscious and we don’t even know were replicating them. Many of us write of what we know and turn it into fiction. I read recently that a movie was being adapted from the lyrics of a Carrie Underwood song. Content is everywhere.
Why did I write this blog piece? I felt like writing. I have a lot to say that is not yet ready to be said. I have been working on various bits of it for a few years. It has another forum, one that is being reworked so that I can tell a story, several stories in fact, when the time is right. To find an outlet for the best way one can express oneself and put together the pieces and have someone say “Yes, we like that, let’s make it work!” I am in that process. I write to be a part of that process. But I restrain my pen. I only write what I know and not what I suppose. I delete, delete, delete until I know what I’ve written is for certain, not my imagination or how I want it to be perceived or wish it were true – but how it really happened. If I don’t know what happened I wait. Waiting is hard. Don’t just do something, sit there!
I know who I am better than anyone else. I am not always happy with that person but I know who I am and what I know is always going to be more than what you know. I feel the need to reveal that person at times. Some people hide behind fiction; others fiction is in fact their reality. I used to know someone who wanted so badly for other people to know who she was because she herself had no idea. However, once you actually discovered who she was she disappeared because it was too frightening to confront as reality. To reveal ourselves we have to be brave and to accept what happens in return. Or do you live by the notion that here is nothing worse than revealing oneself to the wolf?
Why do you write? Why do you read what you do? Do you read fantasy to disappear into another world; historical fiction to educate yourself? Screenplays to help make better movies and tell an untold story? Are you a character yourself or do you know someone who must be put on paper and on the screen, big or small? Do you write because you have a bunch of voices and ideas in your head and if you didn’t you’d go insane? Were you born to write or did you learn to write? What would you do if you could not write and if you know you should write and you’re not, why aren’t you?
Do you write non-fiction so you can reveal yourself, so people can see how smart you might be, so you can? Do you tell your story to be resolved? Do you have it right (write)? Restraint of pen and tongue.
Somewhat related, Screencraft had a great piece on “Where Ideas Come From”. Here.
Are your ideas real or imaginary? Are you grasping for something to hold onto, to make sense of when things just don’t or do you want your feet and words placed firmly in reality and truth? Why do you write and if you’re writing one of those emails, when are you ready to press send? I was always told to write it all down, go down to the ocean (or somewhere similar, powerful and private), read it aloud and throw it away. Do we need to be heard that badly? At what expense?