Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Writing, not writing and how to write your own way....

I'm really looking forward to the Dublin film festival, which kicks off this Thursday. There's a whole day of film talks and seminars at the Lighthouse next weekend, including an interview with Chinatown writer Robert Towne (Story Campus) and I'm going to see 5 or 6 movies, including Macdara Vallely's hotly-tipped Babygirl, a documentary about film title designer Pablo Ferra and The War of the Roses (with Danny DeVito in attendance!).

Now that I'm back living in the city centre (Stoneybatter), the film festival's easier to become completely immersed in for ten days. Can't wait!

Also, I've been thinking about writing and my approach to it, especially after reading this book. It's not about writing, let alone screenwriting, but the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about his approach to working and it struck a chord.

Let me be honest - I know you're not a proper writer (in some people's eyes) unless you're writing for two hours, every night. But I can't work that way. Even if I did have a spare two hours every single day (and who does?), I like to write like a madwoman for a week (or a month) and then do nothing for two or three weeks. This is not just affectation - I do it because when I'm constructing a first draft, losing momentum can kill it. Getting the story down on paper in what feels quite literally like a vomit draft is crucial.

And I'm not alone. I was talking to some other writers about this recently and one of them said something interesting: that he can tell the scenes in a script where he lost focus and let things slide for a day or two. The not-so-funny scene he wrote because he was in a weird mood or the depressing dialogue he put in because he'd had a bad day. I'm paraphrasing, but he said something like, "If I don't write it in one go, if it goes on for months and months, then I'm not the same person writing the end of the script as I was at the start, and that will show". You have to get it done before life intervenes, and life does not come in two-hour daily chunks. It's messier than that.

Taleb even has a section where he talks about procrastination and how he uses it to judge whether a section in his book should be kept or not. If he doesn't want to write it, keeps putting it off, why should he inflict that piece of writing on his readers? This makes sense - the bits that stay in my head whispering at me, the ones that beg to be written - those are the good scenes in a script. The bits I can't face writing - they should be cut, cut, cut.

The novelist Georges Simenon wrote over 200 novels, and he never wrote for more than sixty days a year (presumably sixty manic, pedal-to-the-metal workdays). But still over 300 days of doing... nothing.

My point is that you have to work the way that suits you, the writer. There's no "proper" way to write - as long as you have words on paper, you're winning...

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