Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Misunderstanding of Writing

Laura Miller in Salon reviews a new book about screenwriting. It is timely with the looming strike of the WGA writers.

This quote shows where some of the animosity between management and writers had its beginnings:

To the tough, practical, working-class men who founded the movie industry, it looked suspiciously like loafing. "None of them were quite sure what a screenwriter did," he writes, "or even how he did it. Certainly he or she delivered an artifact, a screenplay, that worked or didn't, but where did it come from? ... Did it take them a year to write a screenplay, or only one day and then they waited a year to hand it in? There was no telling because nobody could see the work occur."

That's the thing about any kind of writing: It may be difficult, but it
sure looks easy -- you can do it in your pj's! Until the advent of reality TV talent shows like "American Idol," most of us existed in blissful ignorance of the sheer number of
completely untalented people who remain convinced that they are destined for stardom. But consider this: Although practically anyone can instantly recognize tone-deafness when they hear it, in a world where fewer and fewer people read at all, bad writers can go on believing in their (unappreciated) genius

In all of my contacts with writers, good, bad, mediocre, brilliant, amateur, professional or dilletante, I am not quite so sure that I have ever met a single one who works exactly the same way.

A few weeks ago I heard Dennis Lehane, author of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, in a great interview on the Eagan and Braude Show here in Boston. Margery Eagan, a columnist and reporter, for the Boston Herald was asking him about how he got his start.

Mr. Lehane revealed that he wrote his first book in about 3 weeks of straight writing. Wow, right?

Eagan was tenacious in her questioning though. "Now wait a minute," she said, " there are a lot of steps between writing the book and it getting on the shelves."

Indeed. Through the next few minutes Mr. Lehane outlined the rest of the process. He gave the manuscript to mentor, who said it was good, but needed work.

Lehane then rewrote and rewrote it over a period of months, (maybe four of five different drafts.) Finally, the manuscript was ready for an agent. The agent tried to sell the book for about year until it finally got a publisher.

Writing is an interesting process both on the business end and the process end.

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